It’s been more than a year since the W Food Pantry located at 703 W. Kirby officially opened its door. What was once an empty retail space has since grown into a fully-stocked food hub serving students in need.
“We have given out over 17,000 pounds of food and have helped to serve over 1,300 students,” Samantha Guerra, student coordinator and Monday shift manager said.
A look inside the W Food Pantry on @waynestate’s campus! Currently enrolled students can pick up non-perishable food items, feminine hygiene products and toiletries. Volunteers are also welcome to sign-up for shifts. #hive55 @TheSouthEndWSU pic.twitter.com/8NQiZ5cQaN— Aleanna Siacon (@SiaconAleanna) November 30, 2018
Guerra, a senior studying biology, said the pantry was born out of a realization that too many WSU students suffer from food insecurity and may not be able to afford their next meal.
WSU doctoral student Corissa Carlson conducted a two-year-long study and dissertation titled, “The Prevalence and Needs of Homeless Undergraduates at a Large, Urban University,”
Carlson’s study compared interviews with 40 to 50 stably housed undergraduate students with the responses of 40 to 50 homeless or precariously housed undergrads — those relying on temporary housing, couch surfing or moving from place-to-place frequently.
Homeless or precariously housed students were significantly more likely to report stressful events, more mental health problems and according to the study, more health symptoms, like body aches, colds and the flu.
Come August 2016, the university announced it had been awarded $200,000 from the McGregor Fund to create a plan for supporting homeless or at-risk students. A portion of the grant was allocated to the Transition to Independence (TIP) program, Helping Individuals Go Higher (HIGH) and a “newly established multidisciplinary Student Needs Committee.”
The same grant powered the creation of the W Food Pantry.
Rainesha Williams-Fox, coordinator of the Student Life Wellness Program, said she was hired to work on the larger grant project and worked to draft the proposal for the food pantry.
“There was one proposal done for the pantry and (it) was a collaborative effort between many campus partners. Initial goal was to provide a place where students who may have empty cupboards or often find themselves with nothing to eat with a FREE resource to combat that issue,” Williams-Fox said in an email.
The W Food Pantry project was started within 3 months of submitting the final report to the McGregor Fund she said.
“In the event that a person is not eating or their basic needs aren’t being met, they cannot be successful. In undergrad, I took advantage of the food pantry we had on campus. I know what help it did for me, and I wanted to reciprocate that feeling for someone else,” Williams-Fox, who received a B.S. in Criminal Justice from Grand Valley State University before entering a master’s program at WSU, said.
According to the WSU Food Pantry Instagram, in the days leading up to their opening, they received their first donation from Gleaners Food Bank — over 2,600 pounds of food. Wayne State Athletics also delivered multiple carts and cars full of Ramen noodles.
READ MORE: The W food pantry cans college hunger
“We do have a few sponsors that are obviously within the university. We are heavily supported by Gleaners Food Bank,” Guerra said. “They help provide us with a lot of the food here that you see today. About 25 percent is from Gleaners, 75 percent of the stuff that’s here is from donations.”
Students can stop by the pantry every two weeks, show their OneCard and pick up a variety of food and hygiene items.
Using a changing menu system, Guerra said clients can choose items by category when picking up goods from the pantry: breakfast, baking, condiments, easy eats (microwaveable items like soup or mac and cheese), veggies, beans, starches, fruit and ramen noodles.
“Essentially each category there’s about three or four choices, and they get to check off one item from each category and then the volunteers go around and collect those items,” she said.
“We don’t ask any questions about financial need or anything, so if you feel like you need it or even if you don’t, feel free to stop by and check us out, tell your friends about it, we’re here for you guys. So, don’t feel like you’re not someone who qualifies, because everyone can qualify.”
Guerra said the pantry also have up to 8 volunteers working on the days they’re open.
Samantha Guerra, a student coordinator and Monday shift manager, talks about the progress made by the W Food Pantry since it opened April 2, 2017. “We have given out over 17,000 pounds of food and have helped to serve over 1,300 students.” #hive55 @TheSouthEndWSU pic.twitter.com/g6tJ1qMr6K— Aleanna Siacon (@SiaconAleanna) November 30, 2018
Volunteers help clients get what they need, clean and organize the pantry, plus check donation bins, she said.
Ashton Lewandowski, a senior biomedical physics and biological sciences major, said he volunteered at the pantry a couple times last year but became a regular this semester — showing up every other week.
“It’s a really light commitment for volunteering, so if you have a really erratic or busy schedule, it’s not like you have to in there for 4 to 8 hours each week,” he said. “It’s actually just an online sign-up sheet, so if you’re only able to do Thursdays, and can maybe even do only once a month, you can just sign up for whatever day that you want, and it goes in two-hour blocks.”
Lewandowski said he’s continued to come back and volunteer his time at the pantry because he knows they’ve made an impact on students whose paychecks are short.
“I know that the work they’ve been doing around campus to just get information out has been really helpful, and it’s been sparking conversation — which is always good,” he said.
Lewandowski said he’s seen the food pantry connect with students at tables in the Student Center to talk about food deserts and nutritional deficiencies, and work to connect with other universities with food pantries across the country.
Guerra said the pantry recently hosted a summit on Nov. 2, focusing on how to run a food pantry and the importance of having one on college campuses. She said she’s also been invited to speak to nutrition and food science classes to speak about food insecurity and the pantry.
A food drive coordinator on the pantry’s leadership team also works with different departments and student organizations to set up food drives, Guerra added.
The fully-stocked pantry is open 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Learn more about volunteering at the W Food Pantry here.
Cover and teaser photos by Aleanna Siacon.