Grace Place looks to keep students fed

By Salta Kendor

Katherine Zuidema said her belief that students need to focus on school and not hunger and homlessness led to the creation of the Huskies Student Food Pantry.

The food pantry, Grace Place Campus Ministry, 401 Normal Road, opened March 20, but Oct. 6 marked the one-year anniversary of when Zuidema, employer relations specialist at Career Services, presented the idea to her supervisor. Zuidema said for every 100 students, 13 are food-challenged, meaning they do not have enough food to eat.

When the food pantry opened in March, only seven students came; the pantry now serves as many as 65 students each day it is open. The pantry is open 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today to students with a OneCard and without a meal plan.

“There’s a certain stigma attached to having the need for food. We ignore that,” said Bill Montgomery, business manager for Career Services, whom works closely with Zuidema. “We don’t care who you are; if you say you need food then you can have food, but you can’t be on a meal plan. That’s the only thing.”

Students with food emergencies are able to shop from the food pantry shelves and choose items like they would in a grocery store. The pantry limits each student to one bag of food with items like fresh vegetables from the NIU Communiversity Gardens and a loaf of bread. Campus food drives and the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva have been key factors in supplying the pantry with food, especially the food bank, which provides food at a fraction of the cost, Zuidema said. The money for the pantry’s purchase of the food comes through donations.

Montgomery said he is satisfied with the number of students served but knows there is a greater need among students.

“If you do some math, there are 11,000 students on campus,” Montgomery said. “Six thousand of those students are in dormitories with meal plans, so roughly 5-6,000 students are not. You take 13 percent of that number [to represent food-challenged students], that’s a big number. Sixty-five is peanuts.”

The food pantry is able to serve five students at a time, which Montgomey said shows the need for an expansion of the space.

In addition to a bigger space, Zuidema said she would like a refrigerator or freezer, which is a requirement of the Northern Illinois Food Bank. The food back has been understanding of the pantry’s lack of equipment, she said.

Sandy Carey, food service administrator at Neptune Dining, said she has had experiences with food-challenged students, including the time Stevenson Dining staff, with approval, arranged for a student to get food from the dining hall as if he or she was on a meal plan. Carey said more avenues must be created to help needy students.

“With the economic situation we have, we need to help students so that they don’t continue to be homeless,” Carey said.