(From front to back) Anitra Rivera, Shannon Cox and Devin Potter work to keep the Missouri S&T food pantry stocked during the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the four weeks since President Trump declared a national emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, food pantries are becoming more crowded and the need for donations is also rising. Fortunately, the Missouri 100, a group of business leaders from across the state that advises and assists President Mun Choi to advocate for the UM System, has made a major donation to help UM System food pantries during these difficult times.
University food pantries have all seen effects of COVID-19 on their own campuses. Issues ranging from volunteer and user safety to lower amounts of donations have made it more difficult for these pantries to operate.
“Even though we’ve decreased our operating hours, we’ve had [a] steady increase in the amount of people who have been utilizing our services,” Anthony Maly of the UMKC Kangaroo Food Pantry said. “In a typical week we would give out 200-300 lbs. of food, but within the past month that number has doubled. There are many new clients, but also previous clients who are becoming more frequent users.”
Even though campus closed, food pantries are essential businesses and will continue to operate. Anyone associated with a university email address is allowed to use the food pantries as a resource, including undergraduate, graduate/professional, or international students, or faculty or staff members.
“In the first three weeks we’ve seen 77 new users, and a lot of them are actually staff members,” Colleen Spurlock of the MU Tiger Pantry said. “We’ve been working to strengthen our partnerships with MU Healthcare, the MU Engagement and other UM System branches to let them know that they can access our services too.”
This increase in users could normally be handled by the food pantries, but social distancing restrictions have brought about new problems. Food drives, one of the main sources of a food pantry’s stock, have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, forcing the food pantry to have to buy many things they once received for free.
“We’ve also run into issues getting certain food items, like rice or canned chicken. We had to cancel our food drives, which was where a large stock of food came from. Grocery stores are also running low on a lot of these items, so we can’t buy them there either,” Maly said.
To help combat some of these issues, the Missouri 100 donated $5000 to each of the four UM System food pantries to fund resources like non-perishable food items, utensils and more.
“Before the generous donation of $5,000 from Missouri 100, we were concerned about how much we’d be able to help support our students and staff through the pandemic,” said Anitra Rivera, from the Missouri S&T food pantry. “Since we depend on food from the food bank, we can only order from them what is available. The donation will allow us to keep the most requested foods in stock. We have gotten more frequent requests for food and many more new users of the pantry.”
“This donation is really helping us keep our shelves stocked. To keep up with demand, we are having to spend $1500 each week, so that helps us stay open and our shelves stay stocked. Employees can also opt to donate part of each of their paycheck to Tiger Pantry, but in times like these, payroll deduction donations tend to get cut as well. Donations like this help keep us cushioned,” Spurlock said.
In addition to funding issues, food pantries have also been struggling to keep up with sanitation and other safety restrictions to make sure the food they give out is safe and clean for users.
“Another big issue we’ve seen is trying to stay on top of the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations with our volunteers. Besides enforcing strong social distancing restrictions, they must know how to properly take face masks and gloves on and off without contaminating other surfaces. We are also constantly wiping things down with bleach to make sure they are disinfected. We would never want one of our users to get sick because of food they got from us, so we are always constantly thinking about how we can do better to make sure our users are safe,” Spurlock said.
Each food pantry is handling the current challenges in the most effective way for their individual community. At the Triton Pantry at UMSL, this has meant coordinating food drop-offs at several campus locations, as well as connecting students with additional resources.
“We’re working with campus restrictions to keep designated locations restocked with emergency food for students. We also have a staff member trained in helping students fill out SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] applications, and we’re connecting our campus community with the food banks in St. Louis who have done an amazing job to increase their service levels during this crisis.”
While COVID-19 has impacted daily life for everybody, UM System food pantries have worked to soften this impact by looking for ways to safely serve the community.
For more information on the UM System Food Pantries: