This week, Portland State’s Food Pantry is set to double their food intake. Thanks to a renewed partnership with Urban Gleaners, the pantry’s weekly 1,000 pound intake of food is set to increase to nearly 2,000 pounds.
Trenna Wilson—the Food Pantry’s general manager—expressed excitement at this development. “We’re hoping that the huge influx in food goes to people who need it and that we continue this trend of growth,” she said.
Growth across the board is a goal for the organization, with an emphasis on enlarging their space. “Right now our biggest challenge is that we are in the Smith basement spread between three rooms,” Wilson said. She detailed the difficulties with the current space, and how only one of their three offices is available to store food. “The largest difficulty is definitely space, since we have this perfect scenario where we have plenty of students who need our services and plenty of resources wanting to help. We could meet so much more of the need if we had a larger space.”
Not only is space an issue, but the physical location as well. “I do think that if we were in a more convenient location then we would get more Food Pantry foot traffic,” Wilson said. She doesn’t know what a new location would look like, citing the prevalent competition over on-campus rooms and locations. “We would like some place where we are a little bit more visible but still have some amount of privacy for our patrons. We really love our grocery store format where you can walk in and select what you want, so having more space to provide that feel of a small store.”
Underutilization is a consistent problem with the pantry, where needs don’t align with actual use. “Hopes for College did a survey, where close to 50% of students surveyed had experienced food insecurity in the month before the survey, which is about 20% higher than the national average for college students’ food insecurity,” Wilson said. “We are aware that the need on campus is very significant and we are serving about 5% of the study body, so obviously there is a massive opportunity to grow further.”
Part of this can be explained by a prevalent attitude in students where they downplay their own needs or shy away from utilizing the pantry, not wanting to use up resources others need. Wilson said she understood this concern. “That is a barrier we hear often,” she said. “It’s wonderful that people are so thoughtful about taking a resource that someone else might need more, but we tell them a couple of things. The first is that the student fees you pay pay for the pantry. The pantry is your space… The second is that the way in which things are set up, the more patrons we get the more support we can get and provide for more who are in need.”
Wilson made sure to stress the ease of using the pantry for students. “There are a lot of sensations that it will be hard,” she said. “The thing we’d really love for students to understand is that there is no paperwork, you don’t have to prove that you are in need. All you need to do is show that you are a student, enrolled either summer or fall, and you get free groceries every single week.”
Resources available at the pantry are subject to change, but the grocery store model system has many of the things expected of a grocery store, including eggs, milk, produce, baking supplies and canned goods. Aside from what’s expected, there are also surprises, such as baby supplies, tea and even ready to eat meals provided by Feed the Masses.
Beyond space and location changes, Wilson expressed a desire for the pantry to collaborate with other on-campus organizations. “We are also looking to work with the various resource centers around campus,” she said. “Many have their own directives to address food insecurity, and we are hoping to get the word out and make a very coordinated effort to provide them with food since we have the infrastructure to support them at no cost.”
Mini-pantries would be geared towards what the different resource centers want, with support given. “Outside of the rules needed to be followed, the mini-pantries would be whatever fits the resource center and serves them best,” Wilson said.
In short, Wilson had a simple message for all students. “If you are a student and eat food, come get food from us,” she said. “Try it at least once to see if it works for them, and if it does… come back the following week.”