The Portland State Food Pantry appreciates your staff’s desire to support us in our work. I regret I was unavailable for the interview Nick Gatlin [Portland State Vanguard’s Opinion Editor] requested for his editorial last week, which meant he was working with quotes and information that were outdated and easy to misinterpret when reprinted out of context. I appreciated his responsiveness when I reached out to correct some details and respond to his opinion. I want to clarify the Pantry’s current state, discuss the support we receive and need, and return the focus to our fellow students by sharing how to use the Pantry.
Many students are struggling to meet their basic needs, especially with rising food costs and recent changes to SNAP benefits. We want to be clear: We’ve got you.
We are here for you because we are supported by PSU. The Student Fee Committee consistently provides the funds we request for operating expenses. The PSU Foundation helps us keep our food supply consistent. The Smith Memorial Student Union team is highly responsive to our frequently-changing business needs. Student Activities and Leadership Programs tirelessly supports our student leaders in our passion for our mission. Campus Planning is helping us with our need for space. At every meeting I attend, I see people reaching for their favorite tools to help us. In a little over a decade, countless people have shepherded the Pantry from a single shelf to a robust student-operated service that is on course to provide PSU students with about a million dollars worth of support, if not more, in the coming year.
By the first week of the fall term, we were seeing patronage similar to pre-pandemic numbers—because enrollment has declined, this means we’re serving a larger percentage of PSU Students than ever before. As of Feb. 8 we have averaged 116 students per day in winter term, or one about every 2.5 minutes, each one invited to take as much food as they can use. This is an all-time high and an increase of about 25% over the fall term.
The Pantry has long needed a larger space—our growth and changes from our suppliers add urgency to this situation. As soon as we have a space that allows us to receive food by the pallet and students by the dozen, we expect to expand our shopping hours and food supply without increasing our operating expenses. As of today, I am pleased with the steps being made toward this goal. Nick Gatlin’s suggestion that the Space Allocation Committee move faster doesn’t help us—they have a process which should be followed and the Pantry currently has not submitted any requests that they can act upon.
The need, as Nick Gatlin noted last week, is huge. To recap: a 2019 survey revealed that nearly 50% of PSU students had experienced some form of food insecurity in the prior month, which is almost 20% higher than the national average for four-year institutions. Almost 9% of PSU students also reported experiencing an average of six days in that month in which they had not eaten at all. Recent hunger studies suggest the situation is worse now than in 2019. This means that every day 350–400 PSU students are probably trying to learn despite empty stomachs, among more than 10,000 per month who struggle to feed themselves well.
The Pantry’s impact is also huge. The food we provide equates to about as many meals as those served by Victor’s Dining Center. We bring over 5,000 pounds of food into Smith each week, with another several thousand through our monthly Free Food Market. That million dollars worth of food I mentioned above is also not deducted from students’ financial aid. We expect that we bring students to Smith and to campus who might not come otherwise, and that after a visit to the Pantry (where they often acquire about $30–50 worth of food), they are better equipped to spend money on tuition and their other needs. I believe we are a critical component in combating declining enrollment and an important player in the campus economy.
Could we use more support? Of course. We are one of many vital services on campus, each of whom could use more support. I disagree, however, with any implication that we are fundamentally unsupported at PSU. The Pantry also wants to be part of a vibrant campus community that has accommodations like the bowling alley, whom we enjoy having as a neighbor. I continue asking, “isn’t this an emergency?” People keep responding, “Yes; how can I help?”
Community members, here is how you can help: You can visit our website to donate a few dollars to help us fill in the gaps in Oregon Food Bank’s available food, or share our resources with students who could use it. You can share that the Pantry team are students as well as professionals with decades of combined experience in small business management, grocery, entrepreneurship and social services. You can use whatever communication methods are at your disposal to remind students often that we exist. If you already mention the Pantry, ask us to support you in providing accurate, current information. Professors can visit www.basicneedsstatement.com and copy and paste information about us and other campus resources into your syllabi. Everyone should do everything they can to assure students that these struggles are nothing to be ashamed of, and there is no reason to go through them alone.
Students, you can depend upon us to offer highly nutritious supplemental groceries every day classes are in session, and during finals weeks. Just drop in with your student ID and take what you can use (the limit signs are gone!). It truly is that simple. We encourage you to visit the Pantry before shopping for your other groceries and to look for creative ways to use our most consistently offered ingredients, like dried beans, masa and fresh produce. Almost all of the food we offer is selected by the Oregon Food Bank or is donated surplus from local businesses. We receive food several times per day and restock all day. On the second Monday of each month the main Pantry is closed so we can host a community-wide Free Food Market behind Shattuck Hall. Oregon Food Bank selects the food for this event and favors fresh items. Information about these events and other free food sources in your area is on our website at www.psufp.com.
If you are one of the many campus entities who support the Pantry, thank you. If you are a student and you eat food, we’d be proud to help you finish what you’ve started here at PSU.
BA Candidate in History & Pantry General Manager