Jennifer Huynh noticed how a food pantry fills a vital need at the University of Colorado of Denver, so she wondered why, after becoming a student at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, a similar pantry wasn’t available here.
That changed earlier this month.
“We all worked together and I’m just really happy to see this,” Huynh said, standing outside the new pantry stocked with canned goods and other items. “My assumption was that there is a need here; it’s just an unspoken need. I often see classmates and other students being frugal with their lunches.”
When Huynh shared her observation with Jan Gascoigne, PhD, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs at CU Anschutz, Gascoigne didn’t hesitate. She connected Huynh to Dora Safoh, case manager, Office of Case Management and the CARE Team, and the collaborative food pantry effort got rolling.
Safoh coordinated a needs survey that circulated among CU Anschutz students earlier this year, after the idea of a food pantry received strong support from students in a previous survey conducted through the Office of Student Health Promotion. The survey questions allowed students to provide input on what they would like to see in a food pantry on campus.
“When asked if a food pantry would fill a need at CU Anschutz, students showed overwhelming support — with a little over 50 percent of respondents agreeing — so the need definitely exists,” Safoh said.
Huynh, a graduate student in the Colorado School of Public Health, said people often have a stigma about food insecurity. Even though they may have a genuine need for basic provisions, they tend to think otherwise out of an assumption that someone else needs them more. “But that’s not what it’s all about,” Huynh said. “We’re trying to encourage students to use this service and not be embarrassed by it.”
Birth of a food pantry
The CU Anschutz Food Pantry launched Oct. 1 and is housed inside the University Police headquarters, Building 407, 12454 E. 19th Place, on the northwest side of campus. So far, the pantry is stocked with nonperishable foods including canned vegetables, beans, fruits and some pasta. These initial items were collected through a food drive collaboration with UCHealth earlier this year.
Kara Garr, student services coordinator at CU Anschutz, helped with the pantry launch and is monitoring the inventory. She said she attempted to launch a food pantry effort at her previous employer, a community college, but the project bogged down in bureaucracy and budget wrangling.
The mission of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus food pantry is to eliminate food insecurity on the Anschutz Medical Campus by providing students with adequate nutritious food, promote the value of nutrition, and increase food distribution and support services to those in need. As servant leaders and partners for social change, we believe that access to wholesome food is a basic human right.
“Here, the process was easy and really refreshing. Everyone was so eager and there was amazing support,” Garr said. “And the willingness of the campus police to house it was awesome. The idea is to make the pantry easy to get to, controlled and confidential.”
Police Chief Randy Repola credited the Division of Student Affairs staff for handling most of the work, noting that his department is happy to provide additional pantry support. “This is something that people sometimes overlook,” he said. “We’re here to provide a safe and secure environment, and this pantry is helping to take care of a basic need for our students.”
The food pantry is specifically for CU Anschutz students, and they can access the free service at any time; only a student ID is needed. Outside normal police headquarters hours, students can still access the pantry by pushing the dispatch button outside the main door. If a student checks a “willing-to-be-contacted” box at sign-in, he or she will be reached for their thoughts about the service and what may be needed. “We’re really excited to get some data back,” Garr said.
Hygiene and another food drive
The consensus so far, at least among the organizers, is that the pantry inventory should expand in some areas. So, a hygiene drive will be held next month in conjunction with peer mentors in the College of Nursing, followed by a supplemental food drive. “All our drives from here on out will be based on our inventory rather than just general food drives,” Garr said. “I really hope to keep our inventory relevant to students’ needs — things they can actually use.”
Safoh said Gascoigne was instrumental in responding quickly to Huynh’s suggestion and helping find a path forward, through collaborations with various campus partners, for the food pantry. Pantry organizers are also pleased that CU Anschutz launched the pantry — and will continue its operations — through donations; it gets no support from student fees.
“I think it’s really neat that we’re able to launch a food pantry with all donations and continue to run it through the generosity of our campus,” Garr said.