About one of every nine college students struggles with food insecurity daily.
However, the stigma that arises with the mention of food pantries tends to worsen students’ ability to meet their needs, which in turn can lead to a mental and physical health decline on top of academic success.
Grand Valley State University has been trying to combat food insecurity and the stigma associated with getting help through Replenish- a food pantry that also provides students with essentials such as toiletries, kitchen appliances and even laptop loans.
As the Fall 2022 semester begins at GVSU, Replenish has been raising awareness of its services, marketing itself as an accessible place to help students meet their needs.
Replenish events, held Monday through Wednesday during the first week of classes, brought traction to its cause. Replenish workers said they noticed that, by being in plain sight, students were more likely to approach them and ask for help, especially if other students were doing the same.
“We work so hard to make sure we sustain shelves and meet everyone’s needs,” said Lariesha Lee, the Assistant Director of the Center for Women and Gender Equity Staff. “About 1,000 students utilized Replenish between Aug. 2019 through Jan. 2020 only at the Allendale location.”
In addition to the Allendale location, students are now able to acquire meals on demand at the Pew Campus and the Cook DeVos Center for Health Science. These locations exist to bring the reassurance that anyone who needs the additional help will be able to access it easily.
Post-pandemic, the need for extra help has increased greatly among students. There has been a spike in the use of Replenish’s food services as well as the need for more basic items. Selected students this year are creating wishlists to help Replenish broaden their reach and cater to what students are lacking day-to-day.
The destigmatization of food pantries is a big focus for Replenish this year. They are tuning their approach to be more student-centered in hopes that it will entice more students to visit their location on any campus.
“We try to meet students where they are and we hope to keep passing out those basic need items, care bags, food bags,” Lee said. “We’re visible and in spaces that students would usually be in and it helps to destigmatize the idea of a food pantry.”
Students are welcome to get involved with Replenish’s cause as they are always accepting volunteers to do different tasks such as donation drives, food drives, essential needs drives, deliveries, pick up and stocking.
Every bit of help and exposure creates a safer and more accepting environment for students who need the help that Replenish offers.
September is Hunger Action Month and GVSU’s Center for Women and Gender Equity as well as the Allendale Fire Department are joining forces to help raise money and food for future drives. The organizations will be hosting a food drive on Saturday, Sept. 17 during the Laker Family Weekend from 12 to 2 p.m. Donations are welcome during this time as well.
“We want to normalize food security and show that it is okay to seek help and get what you need from us,” Lee said.
Replenish on the Allendale campus is open in room 73 of Kirkhof from noon to 5 p.m. The Pew campus location in the Steelcase Library and is open during library hours. The CHS location is in room 337, on the third floor, and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.