Although the PSU Food Pantry has temporarily relocated, Bobby Smallwood wants students to know help is available to each and every person who needs it.
“We will always be there,” said Smallwood, the pantry’s manager and senior studying philosophy and statistics.
Demand in the wake of the coronavirus has increased as students struggle to make ends meet. The pantry usually serves about 2,000 students annually, but Smallwood said new students discover the pantry each week.
According to an upcoming study from the PSU Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative, 47% of PSU students reported experiencing food insecurity when surveyed in Fall 2019. Of those surveyed, 24% said they had used the PSU Food Pantry at some point during their PSU career.
The food pantry has also had to change how it operates as a result of COVID-19, including relocating and shipping food boxes.
Usually located in the basement of Smith Memorial Student Union, the PSU Food Pantry temporarily lives at the 5th Avenue Cinema.
“We had to move, or we would have to stop operating,” Smallwood said, of Smith’s closure.
Smallwood said he suspects they will remain at the cinema until fall term when they hope to move back to Smith — if campus reopens.
Operations at the pantry look a little different in the interim. Students are asked to come only once a week and by appointment only, to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus further.
Smallwood said the hope is that once a week visits, with no limits on how much food students can take, will be enough to get pantry patrons through the week.
“It's all to protect the community, to protect everyone who uses the pantry and everyone they come in contact with,” Smallwood said. “The whole entire community is doing the responsible thing.”
To help those who don’t feel safe visiting the pantry in person, Smallwood said his team were recently able to partner with the PSU Bookstore to begin shipping boxes of food. Things like fresh produce won’t be available, but staples like flour and rice can easily be shipped. Students can place their orders online through the food pantry’s website.
This week, there are 15 orders for shipped boxes. Smallwood expects demand to increase as more students learn about the food pantry — demand in spring term has already increased overall.
“That’s what we want — we want to help every single student,” he said.
Smallwood added that although they’ve struggled to keep everything in stock, they’re adapting and turning to private agencies to purchase supplies like meat and produce, such as wholesale distributor Smart Foodservice.
Typically, about 95% of the food pantry’s stock comes from the Oregon Food Bank.
“They're feeling the squeeze, just like everyone else,” he said. “Supply chains have been strained for all sorts of things, so there’s less surplus.”
With the Oregon Food Bank relying more on donations, partner agencies like the PSU Food Pantry must also rely more on donations. Smallwood said they are accepting food donations and financial contributions to help keep things running. Donations can be made through the website. Food donations can be coordinated by emailing the pantry at firstname.lastname@example.org.