PSU Food Pantry at former Green Zebra location on 1704 SW Broadway. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard

PSU Food Pantry undergoing remodel

Expansion allows for more space for staff and more food for students

The Portland State Food Pantry temporarily reopened for the summer at the former Green Zebra location on 1704 SW Broadway. The pantry will continue to provide free groceries to PSU students TuesdayThursday from 124 p.m. until they move into their remodeled space in the Smith Memorial Student Union basement.


“We anticipate being back in our remodeled space once fall term begins and hope to conduct that move during the break,” according to the pantry’s website.


Trenna Wilson, the pantry’s general manager, said this remodel—which will significantly expand their current space—will benefit the pantry’s patrons and staff.


“It isn’t just about having more space,” Wilson said. “It’s especially about the precise way that the new space is configured. We would be able to cut the physicality [of pantry jobs] by about half. This means that—with the same number of people—we’ll be able to offer a larger amount of food to students.”


Wilson explained how—due to the physical demands of food pantry jobs—the pantry staff has been experiencing high turnover rates, staff burnout and injuries on the job. With an expanded space, Wilson said they will be able to streamline their operations and avoid unnecessary physical labor and safety issues.


For every 600 pounds of food the pantry provides to PSU students, the pantry staff lift roughly 7,000 pounds. The previous pantry space was so inefficient and cramped that it created unnecessary labor to navigate the large amount of food donations they received. Wilson expects the remodel will both reduce the physicality of pantry jobs and allow them to provide even more food to patrons.


“We’ll still see an increase in output from the pantry without us going to the student fee committee to ask for more money for labor,” Wilson said. “What that means for our team is that the job will be more safe, and we’d probably see less turnover and definitely fewer injuries.”


The student managers of the pantry have been campaigning since early June to remain open throughout the summer term, despite their current space being under construction. According to Wilson and the pantry website, pantry staff were informed on June 2 that the pantry would potentially shut down over the summer, causing the staff to be laid off and pantry patrons to go without food.


“We appreciate your kindness and understanding to our staff during the summer,” stated the pantry website. “The prospect of students not having food, and our households losing our incomes, was a significant trauma to our team, and it’s taking us some time to recover both individually and as an organization.”


Wilson described this period of uncertainty for the pantry as highly traumatizing for both herself and her staff considering how many PSU students are experiencing food insecurity.


According to the 2020–2021 Food Pantry Fast Facts sheet, the pantry provided 4,505 students with groceries during the COVID-19 campus closures. Wilson said the need for a working, efficient pantry is dire in the current economic climate.


According to a 2020 report by the PSU Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative (HRAC), 47% of PSU students and 16.5% of PSU staff experienced food insecurity the month before the survey.


The HRAC’s report explained how “41.8% of students reported cutting the size of their meals because they did not have enough money for food. On average, this occurred on almost 10 of the past 30 days. Almost 9% of students indicated that they did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food. On average, this occurred on approximately 6 of the past 30 days.”


The pantry has continued providing much-needed food to PSU students over the summer thanks to the dedication of pantry staff and student support. Due to the intense stress the pantry staff experienced during their period of uncertainty in the early summer, Wilson urges pantry patrons to recognize that the organization is still recovering.


“We’ve got you. We’re here for you,” Wilson said. “But we need support, too.”