Food for thought

Council launches pantry

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Evan Kephart, a campus minister at Penn State Altoona, restocks the school’s food pantry Monday in the Edith Davis Eve Chapel. The campus Interfaith Council has opened a food pantry to help students in need.

College students have enough stress in their lives without the worry of running out of money for food and going hungry — especially as final exams are looming.

That’s the thought behind a new food pantry that has opened on the Penn State Altoona campus at the Edith Davis Eve Chapel.

The campus Interfaith Council, which has ministry leaders representing several religious groups, opened the pantry after several council members tried other ways to solve the chronic problem of students going hungry due to lack to funds.

The problem is that students, whether they live on or off campus, frequently don’t have enough money to pay for food at the end of the semester, said Evan Kephart, an Interfaith Council member who is a campus minister with CCO Jubilee Ministries.

“Oftentimes, students run out of money on their meal plan at the end of the semester and need a little extra help,” said Kephart.

The problem isn’t a new one, but it’s a been a tough one to solve, said Mike Andrews, another Interfaith Council member. Andrews, who said he brought the issue to the council’s attention, said the campus has tried to help students before through the former Office of Student Life, now known as the Center for Student and Civic Engagement, but students didn’t use the resource.

He first learned about the issue of students running out of food money last year from one of his students, and they talked about possible solutions, including shuttling students to area food banks, but discarded that idea because of problems with scheduling.

Together with other council members, they settled on the food pantry concept.

“Some of the popular items that we have are rice, peanut butter, cereal and snack bars,” said Andrews, who is campus minister with the Christian Student Fellowship. “We are hoping to set up a system where students will take items that have more nutritional value, that way they are not just taking Pop-Tarts.”

Of the 3,493 students who attend Penn State Altoona, about 901 live on campus, said Marissa Rea Carney, a spokesperson for the campus.

The students who live on campus are required to sign up for one of six meal plans, which will be cut to three plans next fall, said Alison Bonsell, director of campus housing and food services.

Off-campus students don’t have to sign up for a plan but many either purchase a plan or buy “LionCash,” which is a student account they put money into that can be used to buy food and other items on campus and at area retailers.

“They of course can add funds to either plan,” Bonsell said. “Some may not, however, have the availability of funds to use. The off-campus student who is buying groceries for their apartment or house may be running out of funds for groceries as well.”

Other members of the Interfaith Council have also seen the need for the food pantry on campus.

Andre McCarville, who is the Catholic campus minister and oversees the Ivyside Catholic Newman Club, said he’s noticed that students who come to gatherings his group sponsors aren’t always seeking just spiritual nourishment.

“They would come to our events with the hope of getting something to eat, and when I realized that there was a greater need, I would purchase food for them that would last them a little longer,” McCarville said. “Other campus ministers have been having similar experiences.”

Another council member who’s seen the problem first-hand and tried to help is Heather Turnwall, who is a campus minister and also an adviser to SALT — Students About Living Truth — a Christian student club on campus.

Turnwall said a woman in the community who knew about the students’ meal needs paid for bags of food that the former Office of Student of Life distributed. The campus also tried giving students vouchers to the student cafeteria.

“I have known a few students in my four years here who have struggled and I have taken them to local pantries,” she said. “The Interfaith Council was excited from the beginning of this discussion to help in any way that we could.”

The council started last December asking local churches and individuals for donations for the pantry, which is located in the Edith Davis Eve Chapel on campus, Turnwall said. The council also requested a grant from the Student Activities Fund to help pay for food with which to stock the pantry, she said.

Although the pantry has only been open a short time, it’s already proven popular with the students, Turnwall said.

“Most students took what they were offered and seemed very happy for the help,” she said. “It made me happy that we found some people on campus that have a real need.”

McCarville agreed, saying he saw a large turnout of students recently. The pantry is open to any Penn State Altoona student with a valid student identification card. Kephart said students are also asked to fill out an anonymous survey so the council can better meet their needs.

The students who’ve visited the pantry have enjoyed the variety it offered, McCarville said.

“They were very appreciative and excited to see they had choices of food,” he said. “They didn’t have to just pick whatever was the cheapest. It really did show the need was real, and we were happy to see the need had gotten out.”

The council does accept donations from the public. Turnwall suggested items that are easy to make or quick to eat because students are getting ready for final exams.

Items such as soup, ravioli, cereal, canned fruit and vegetables, macaroni and cheese, pasta, oatmeal and granola bars are easy to prepare, she said.

“If they can microwave it, or open an individual cup of peaches or grab a granola bar, that is helpful to them especially as the stress levels increase and students get busier with the end of the year approaching.”

To donate items to the Penn State Altoona food pantry for students, email the council at IvysideEats