Huskie Food Pantry plans to improve accessibility among students

Fresh produce is offered by the Huskie Food Pantry, along with non-perishables, boxed food items and toiletries.

DeKALB — The Huskie Food Pantry hopes to improve accessibility for eligible students in the current academic year.

Located in various spaces throughout the Chick Evans Field House, the Huskie Food Pantry operates from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays throughout the academic year and twice a month during the summer. The service is open to all NIU students without meal plans.

Jennifer Van Ewyk, Huskie Food Pantry coordinator and assistant director for volunteerism through Student Involvement and Leadership Development, said recent changes within the Division of Student Affairs have prompted the food pantry to expand operations further.

“In the future, as space allows, we would love to have a more private space,” Van Ewyk said. “There’s a lot of stigma associated with using a pantry. One of our goals is to move into the Holmes Student Center once they’re done with renovations.”

Van Ewyk said in order to streamline operations and continue operating independently from university funding, the Huskie Food Pantry hopes to promote monetary donations among students. The pantry is currently partnered with the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which helps local pantries buy food staples and produce at discounted prices. With monetary donations, the Huskie Food Pantry can get the most value for the items it buys.

Van Ewyk also said more universities nationwide are beginning to embrace on-campus food pantries. With NIU’s efforts to combat food insecurity, she said the push is in context with a national movement.

The pantry’s operations aren’t restricted to combating food insecurity. The pantry also partnered with Tau Sigma, a transfer honor society, to host a toiletry drive throughout October. Donations are being accepted in room 150 of the Campus Life Building.

“The food pantry only has access to food, so it’s a niche we need help in and an opportunity around the cold season to get things like hand sanitizer and Kleenex for students,” Rachael Turffs, drive organizer and senior accounting major, said.

Eight students currently serve on a core leadership team with the pantry. Mitchell Huftalin, senior communication and Spanish major, has been with the program since the beginning of his junior year.

Huftalin said part of the pantry’s outreach is ending the stigma surrounding food insecurity and increasing awareness of the program’s benefits.

“From the time I’ve started here to now, our numbers went down because a lot of our users graduated,” Huftalin said. “We’re trying to get more policies in, so more people can use the pantry and more people can use it in a fair way.”

Huftalin said the goal of the pantry is to lessen students’ worries surrounding the cost of higher education and its effects on purchasing basic necessities.

“The biggest problem for students is paying for college and having to pay for things outside of college like groceries,” Huftalin said. “Having the food pantry can help students astronomically.”