By Acacia Hernández
Since its opening on Aug. 25, the new student food pantry has received 81 visitors during the two days out of the week that it’s been open.
“We have seen significant amount of use of this space,” said Alana Harris, Associate Director of Assessment, Wellness, and Adventure Recreation, adding they had their busiest day this past Saturday.
The food pantry, located at the Activities Recreation Center, gives students the freedom to pick items off the shelf, as if they were grocery shopping at a store. Due to COVID-19, only one student is allowed into the space at a time.
Students can find fresh fruit and vegetables, both grown locally. University of Illinois student Franco Cubas particularly enjoys this part of the pantry.
“I really liked the variety, and the fruits were of really high quality,” Cubas said. “I would definitely recommend it to students that need some help during this pandemic.”
A portion of the fresh produce comes from the surrounding farming communities.
“Because of the weather and time of year, we’ve had lots of local gardeners donating tomatoes, squash and all that good stuff,” Harris said. “Not only are we talking about food security with students, we’re also trying to provide resources to help them make healthy, nutritional choices.”
This food pantry falls under the Eastern Illinois Food Bank and is complimented with food items from donations.
After one and a half years in the making, beginning with preliminary research, this assistance program was carefully designed to meet the needs of students on campus.
“We didn’t know what to expect in terms of participation, but our numbers are telling us that students need this,” Harris said. “As long as we have students coming to use this service, we will continue to seek opportunities to support the service.”
According to the Campus Recreation website, the pantry is staffed by student volunteers from Food Science Human Nutrition who work with faculty “to provide educational resources to pantry shoppers while developing our student volunteers to provide food support and community building skills.”
The student food pantry’s distribution hours are Tuesdays, 1-4 p.m., and Saturdays, 2-5 p.m.