Student Food Pantry offers aid during the holidays

Ben Glick

For all too many, the struggle to get a good education comes not just from fried nerves and stressful nights of cramming during finals week, but when there is no money left from sky-rocketing tuition, books and rent.

“With the economy in the shape that it’s in, students have been facing greater difficulties to secure food and other essentials,” said Brittany Dernberger, assistant director of the Women’s Center. “Students who either lost scholarships or took out loans to pay tuition have little left over and face difficulties.”

Since it opened in April of 2009, the Student Food Pantry has been helping a growing number of students who are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet. According to the annual report compiled by the Women’s Center, the food pantry aided around 500 people last year, which is up from estimates of around 400 the previous year.

Aside from providing food donations to students in need, the food pantry is also meant to educate students on preventing hunger before it begins.

“We operate on the honor system,” Dernberger said. “Students fill out a form for what they need and we get it for them.”

Students are typically allowed to withdraw from the pantry twice a month, but if need persists, Dernberger and others at the Women’s Center find something more lasting.

“If a student comes to us frequently, we’ll try to find a more permanent solution,” Dernberger said. “We usually do that by getting them in contact with other organizations that can help them out.”

This kind of need comes at a delicate time. While most students flock home for winter break, where food is in relative abundance, some will still remain without. According to the Women Center’s 2012-2013 report, the holiday season between November and January makes up for nearly one-third of all claims.

“We usually receive more food donations than we give away,” Dernberger said. “(Each) department yields a lot of donations.”

Much of the pantry’s donations come from food drives, such as the one held this October.

“In addition to that, we receive throughout the year cash donations from supporters that we use to buy more things that students need,” Dernberger said. “The real issue is just finding the space to put it all.”

The pantry has progressed since its inception. Already, the pantry has secured a refrigeration unit that will be used to store more perishable items throughout the year, and it has surplus from the farmer’s market that takes place on campus during the summer.

“Many of the farmers who were unable to sell all their produce gave it to the pantry,” Dernberger said. “However, without the space for refrigeration, it proved to be difficult to distribute it all before it went bad.”

She hopes that soon the pantry’s refrigeration unit, and even more storage space, will be installed somewhere in the Kirkhof Center. Coupled with that is a desire to ease distribution through volunteers.

“Right now we are just using Women’s Center employees, but in the future I would like to extend volunteer opportunities to students who want to help,” Dernberger said.

Besides running many of the operations at the Women’s Center and the Student Pantry, Dernberger also educates other groups on campus that try to prevent hunger and poverty before it begins. Many of the plans outlined by Dernberger include long-term solutions such as getting students to grow their own food with land already set aside on the GVSU campus. By developing this, along with the college’s agricultural organizations and Hunger and Homelessness, the hope is to give students a greater degree of independence.

“We understand that while the Student Food Pantry is an important resource for students, it does not address the root issues of poverty and food insecurity,” Dernberger said. “It’s important to work (toward) food justice.”