CMU Student Food Pantry: Growth of visitors means increase of hours


General: The CMU Student Food Pantry distributes food to students Wednesday, Jan. 26. The food pantry is open from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesdays, 3-5 p.m. on Wednesdays and noon to 3 p.m. on Fridays. 

Photo: Ubly junior Ryche Roggenbuck restocks the shelves of the CMU Student Food Pantry on Wednesday, Jan. 26.

Between Calkins and Robinson Halls, a normally quiet place since North Campus has closed, resides a small grocery-like store with shelves lined with canned food products and cleaning supplies with fridges stocked with fresh dairy and produce.

Except this isn't grocery store, but the Central Michigan University Student Food Pantry, a staple for many individuals on campus. 

Central Michigan University's Student Food Pantry has increased their hours of operation as they continue to grow this year in an effort to reach more students. 

“We are in our sixth year of the food pantry," Assistant Director of the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center, Symantha Dattilo said, "This really came from her recognition, and some other folks on campus, recognizing that we did have a need on campus."

The CMU Food Pantry was an idea started by the previous director Shawna Ross. Ross had been with CMU for more than 20 years and the pantry was something she wanted to bring to campus. 

CMU was one of the last public institutions in Michigan to get a food pantry, in the fall of 2018, according to the Volunteer Center's page.

“I think we are still super new and still trying to figure out what our need looks like on campus,” Dattilo said

Through the COVID-19 years

Since COVID-19 pandemic, Dattilo said that the food pantry has noticed their need in the community grow exponentially. The pantry will serve anywhere from 250 to 300 students a week. 

“We've just had to adjust how we serve and at what capacity we serve (by) adding hours and adding new vendors,” Dattilo said.

Prior to COVID, the food pantry was working almost exclusively with the Greater Lansing Food Bank and modeled the pantry to look and feel like a grocery store, Dattilo said.

However, the pandemic's limit on face to face interactions impacted the pantry, said Dattilo. Students were still able to use the pantry, but only by filling out an online form before coming, selecting the products a student would need, and then picking up their bag later.  

Now, the food pantry continues to work with the Greater Lansing Food Bank and has added additional price partners for both food and care products, Dattilo said.

They also have a donation partnership with Aldi, County Soup Kitchen, Community Compassion Network, and then purchasing products from the Dollar Tree. 

“It's a little bit of a surprise every single week when we get our truck from the Greater Lansing Food Bank of what we get, Dattilo said. (However) when we go out and purchase fresh products, we really try to make sure we produce milk eggs, chicken beef, just because we know that fresh fruit is important."

The food pantry is providing both food and care for students on campus. The food side is shelf stable products like canned foods, pastas, rice and other. They also stock produce, bread, frozen meats, snacks and breakfast foods.

On the care side there are things like school supplies, hygiene products, period products and cleaning supplies. In the winter, there is a warmth drive to provide hats, gloves, scarves and coats. 

“We are 100 percent donation based," Dattilo said, "So, from current students, faculty, staff and alumni and then  folks who care a whole lot about making sure students have what they need." 

Food Insecurity 

Dattilo thinks the food pantry is essential to CMU’s campus since CMU's food insecurity is higher than the national average of one in three students. 

CMU students are experiencing food insecurity rates at around 40% at some point during their college experience, according to Graduating Student Survey data from the Career Development Center.

"If that's the truth then the pantry may not be enough," Kate Foster, a junior studying social work said. "CMU has lots of resources to make this statistic better."

“We know that when folks are experiencing food insecurity, that means that they're making choices about purchasing food or purchasing books for their classes,” Dattilo said. “(They) are more isolated and have a lower sense of belonging to their social circles because they can't afford to go out and do things like go to dinner or go to the movies and build relationships around things that might cost money. 

"So (when) mental health declines, success in the classroom declines and then your physical health obviously suffers too, right?”

Emma Slone, a freshman studying biology, said it makes her feel sad that many people have to go through that, but is glad that the pantry is here to help.

Even with the high numbers the food pantry is serving, there are still students out there that are not using the pantry like they could be.

“We see it not as a tool of charity," Dattilo said, "We see it as a tool of student success. College is really, really hard and knowing where your next meal is going to come from should not be the thing that makes it harder."

CMU’s Student Food Pantry is free and available for all students to use. For more information on the pantry’s operations and volunteer opportunities check out the Volunteer Center’s website or Instagram