Campus food pantry reopens in fall

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Campus food pantry reopens in fall

By Leah Nicolini

When Kathy Zuidema discovered the Huskies Student Food Pantry had to relocate from its rent-free location at Grace Place Campus Ministry, the Career Services Employer Relations Specialist looked to NIU for support.

The Chick Evans Fieldhouse will be open 5-7 p.m. on Aug. 25 and serve as the permanent structure for the pantry, functioning as a NIU-supported operation managed by Liz McKee, assistant program director for Student Involvement and Leadership Development.

“Until June, this wasn’t a university initiative,” McKee said. “When [Zuidema] knew she had to get out of [the ministry] she said ‘hey, do you think this is something we can do on campus?’.”

The Huskies Student Food Pantry opened in March 2014 in Grace Place Campus Ministry, 401 Normal Road, when Zuidema saw there was a need on campus for student food security. After the first year of operating two times a month, 700 students were served, according to a March 2015 NIU Today article.

The pantry is volunteer operated and serves non-perishable foods and fresh produce from the DeKalb County Community Gardens and the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Students must have a valid and current NIU OneCard ID for access. Students with a meal plan are not eligible for the pantry, according to the pantry’s website.

In the past two years, about 40 to 70 students came for food each night the pantry was open which was bimonthly, and last year, 606 different students had gotten food, McKee said.

Career Services supported the initiative by facilitating some of the administrative duties such as managing the hours of operation, stocking, accounting, housekeeping and website management, according to a March 2015 NIU Today article. Dennis Barsema, College of Business alumnus manager, is involved with the pantry as a member of its steering committee.

After two years of rent-free space, the ministry notified Zuidema it could no longer host the pantry because the pantry was growing and the ministry needed the space for worshippers, McKee said.

“It was generous for Grace Place Campus Ministry to give the pantry space for two years but [the pantry is] getting larger and the ministry needed the space for worshipers,” McKee said.

The food pantry’s new location will be rent free and is to be renovated with NIU funding including electrical work and redoing the carpeted floors. McKee said she is in the planning and quote phase.

The food insecurity rate in DeKalb County is 13.9 percent, according to the pantry’s website. The poverty rate for the county in 2014 was 14.7 percent, according to non-profit organization Heartland Alliance’s website.

“I think back to when I was in college and I didn’t have access to healthy food,” McKee said. “It’s important to provide food for students to learn. There’s a stigma in society [towards getting food from a food pantry] but we’re working to combat that.”

McKee said students are in the position to seek help affording food because some are learning how to manage their budget or others may not receive financial support from their family.

The Student Involvement and Leadership Development department is creating a survey to better understand the demographic they are serving like how students prefer to collect their food or what kind of food they prefer.

McKee is also reviewing the hours of operation and seeking to establish a more consistent volunteer staff by engaging students in the University Honors Program.

“We want our students to be happy,” McKee said. “I think [the pantry is] a really important service we offer the university community.”

The pantry accepts donations for non-perishable food and items like soap. Call 815-753-6597 or email Liz McKee at lmckee1@niu.edu for more information about the pantry.