Feeding Student Hunger

By Laura McDonough

The Youngstown State University Student Government Association began a food pantry last spring to combat student hunger on campus.

Gabrielle Gessler, President of SGA, said the food pantry proved to be a success right away.

“If you gage the utilization of students, we averaged about 10 students per week and we are open two days a week,” Gessler said.

James MacGregor, vice president of University Affairs, said the food pantry had a slow start, but has now served between 50 and 60 students so far.

Because the initial trial period of the food pantry went so well, it was continued. Gessler said part of their success comes from the support they receive from their partnerships and donations which allows them to maintain a full pantry.

Because the food pantry receives so many donations, the SGA office can’t always keep it all.

“We had a donor from Little Debbie who donated so much to us that we donated those to the Youngstown Family Mission,” MacGregor said.

Gessler is currently working on grant papers through the National Education Association. If accepted, the grant money will allow them to purchase a refrigerator and a freezer to hold frozen goods, fresh produce and fresh meat.

The grant is due at the beginning of February and Gessler will know within the month whether or not she will receive the funds.

“The amount of the grant exceeds the amount of the freezer and refrigerator, so we’re also looking into possible expansion somewhere else within the university, hopefully still in Kilcawley Center,” Gessler said. “We’re just receiving so many donations.”

MacGregor said their ideal location to move into would be what is now the bookstore, but they are exploring other options.

“There’s been some talk with the recent purchase of Barnes and Noble, and with Barnes and Noble being built and located off campus.” Macgregor said. “That space would be open and we’ve been talking with Mr. Howard and those departments to see if we can have some storage in the current bookstore space.”

In addition to monetary and food donations, the food pantry is working with the Environmental Sustainability Society to get fresh produce from places like the Ward Beecher greenhouse when they have the ability to store it.

SGA was able to purchase an ID scanner which has been used to keep track of students using the service. The information on who uses the food pantry and when is confidential.

If they notice a particular student who comes in often, they are able to help them look for services for a better long term solution.

“We don’t want to infringe on anyone’s privacy, but if we see a student who comes in Wednesday and Friday multiple times a month, there’s definitely an issue and we want to try and help them address that,” MacGregor said.

The YSU bookstore still provides bags to the food pantry to aid in keeping their services discrete, as a student walking around with one of their bags is nothing unique on campus.

SGA is currently working on a way to better advertise the food pantry in a discrete way that will maintain student dignity and confidence. They even keep a small circle of volunteers to ensure discretion.

“Because it’s sort of an underground thing, not a lot of students are familiar with it that may still need assistance,” MacGregor said.

The food pantry is currently open in Kilcawley Center on Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m. and Friday from noon to 2 p.m. in the hallway behind Wendy’s. Gessler said there is discussion on expanding their hours or opening on more days.