Student food pantry seeks to expand its services

Many students pay a high price to go to school, sometimes sacrificing other commodities in the process. One of the most commonly sacrificed necessities is food. According to Feeding America’s 2012 report, 16.8 percent of Michigan residents are food insecure.

At Grand Valley State University, that number may be higher. According to a campus climate survey taken in 2010, approximately 23.5 percent of those who took the survey said that they experience financial hardship due to food-related concerns.

In order to combat this higher-than-average percentage, the GVSU Women’s Center is beginning their campus-wide food drive today to fill the shelves of their student food pantry.

Director of the Women’s Leadership House and Assistant Director of the Women’s Center, Brittany Dernberger, said the Women’s Center hosts the food pantry to meet the short-term challenges that students face when it comes to accessing food.

“We know that it’s important for students to have enough food to eat in order to be successful in their classes,” Dernberger said.

According to a statement on the Women’s Center website, it is important to have a food pantry on campus because resources available in the surrounding community may be difficult to access, or they may not be able to accommodate students based on eligibility guidelines.

The statement also said that “by bringing a food supply to the GVSU campus, it eliminates some of the barriers students may face when accessing outside sources.” Some of these limitations are transportation and hours of availability.

However, Dernberger is very aware that the student food pantry will not solve the problem of food insecure students in the long term.

“This is a Band-Aid to the fact that students don’t have food,” Dernberger said. “We’re not really solving the larger issue.”

Currently, students in need of the food pantry may visit the pantry up to twice a month. This is based on the capacity of the pantry to sustain this resource for all students who need it.

However, the student food pantry is looking to expand in both resources and physical space.

“It is currently housed in the workroom of the Women’s Center,” Dernberger said. “We really would like to see the student food pantry have its own space. That would allow it to grow a little bit. We have a refrigerator that’s sitting in the basement of Murray unplugged because we don’t have room for it.”

According to Derberger, a larger space would allow for the student food pantry to offer more fresh produce and perishable items for students if they could utilize the refrigerator they currently don’t have room for.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from farmers who come to the farmers market and who want to donate their produce that they don’t sell,” Dernberger said. “We unfortunately, at this point, have to turn it away because we don’t have the capacity to take it on. We simply don’t have enough storage space.”

If the student food pantry receives a larger space, Dernberger said they could work with other student organizations to supply more food. She noted that the Sustainable Agriculture Project could consistently provide fresh produce grown by GVSU students.

As for the location of the larger space, Dernberger hopes to snag some of the space in the Kirkhof Center when the University Bookstore moves to its new location this summer.

“As the bookstore moves out of Kirkhof, it sounds like there would be potential for there to be space there, near where the coffee shop is,” Dernberger said. “We really don’t need a large space, just something with a refrigerator and some shelving. We want it to be accessible.”

The food pantry started in 2009, due to the work of Women’s Center undergraduate student staff member, Susana Villagomez and Women’s Center graduate assistant, Rachael DeWitt.

“Susana noticed that her friends and classmates were struggling with not having enough food to eat, so she worked with the Women’s Center to start the student food pantry,” Dernberger said.

Last year, the food pantry was host to 588 visits and served almost 200 individual students.

The food pantry is open any time that the Women’s Center is open, including during the summer and academic breaks.

Last year the food pantry received over 150 bags of food donations, which equated to over 3,000 pounds of food, Dernberger said.

Dernberger added that the most commonly needed items are soup, rice, granola bars, paper products, cereal, granola bars, microwave popcorn, pasta and peanut butter.

Those wishing to donate during the ongoing food drive are able to drop off food at several locations on the Allendale, Pew and Holland campuses until Oct. 13. Food donations, as well as personal care items and monetary donations are accepted by the Women’s Center year-round.

Facilities Customer Services Assistant Cheryl Fischer is responsible for one of the stop locations where food can be dropped off.

“It is a significant amount of money to go to college here. If we can help (students) in any way, it serves a great purpose,” Fischer said.

For more information about drop-off locations and the food pantry in general, visit