Wayne State University food pantry receives grant

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published September 19, 2017

 Three Wayne State University student volunteers show pride in their school by helping out at the W, Wayne State University’s student food pantry, which opened in April of 2017.

Three Wayne State University student volunteers show pride in their school by helping out at the W, Wayne State University’s student food pantry, which opened in April of 2017.

Photo provided by Katie McMillan

DETROIT — Universities are finding new ways to help their students through on-campus food pantries. This includes Wayne State University, which recently was awarded a $34,000 grant for that purpose from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

The goal of the food pantry — and, by extension, the grant from the community foundation — is to help combat food insecurity among college students.

“Food insecurity has a direct impact on economic success and, unfortunately, many students are forced to choose between buying textbooks or buying food,” said WSU Dean of Students David Strauss. “That’s a decision no one should ever have to make, and we’re fortunate to have the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan join us in remedying that need.”

A six-month study done by the university examined the needs of students, particularly those who are homeless or otherwise vulnerable. Since opening in April, the W has served almost 300 students and distributed nearly 4,000 pounds of food and supplies. 

“It has been open since April of 2017,” said Strauss. “The main initiative was to convene a group to look at needs like housing, food, transportation, hygiene products, etc. As we did our research, we looked at food pantries and we decided we could get this started at Wayne State. It is located on the first floor of the Towers Residential Suites, where some of our student residencies are.”

Those wishing to contact the pantry can do so by calling (313) 577-0154 or emailing thew@wayne.edu. The address is 703 W. Kirby St. in Detroit.

WSU estimates that food insecurity among college students nationally is approximately 48 percent, and believes as many as 10,000 of its students are food insecure, which WSU defines as having a lack of secure, consistent access to nutritious and affordable food.

“The pantry is open Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m., and Monday through Thursdays, 4 to 8 p.m.,” explained Strauss. “Students can come twice a month and receive a bag of groceries stocked with staples for a cupboard, and a third time in case of emergencies. We don’t require proof of income or GPA. If you are enrolled in class that semester, you just need to show your school identification. Everything is confidential.”

The foundation said this was a worthy cause to support, and helping students better achieve the college dream is one that improves the quality of life across the area.

“The community foundation is pleased to be an early supporter of this project,” said Mariam Noland, the president of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. “We applaud the leadership from across the university who have been working hard to uncover the hidden challenges of college students and are working to address them.” 

The W provides food, toiletries and other supplies to WSU students at no cost. The grant will help cover the costs of the pantry’s initial startup expenses, including the purchase of food and toiletries, food storage equipment, cleaning supplies, inventory software, marketing materials and uniforms for volunteers. However, it also will improve the pantry’s ability to distribute perishable food to students.

“This will mean fresh fruits and vegetables and meat products,” explained Strauss. “The community foundation is passionate about helping people in need. When they learned about our goals, they were very interested in seeing how they could support us. When they did a site visit, they saw how much demand there was for perishable items.”

The W pantry is funded through donations and grants and does not use any of the school’s general fund money. It is run through the work of volunteers. The pantry has partnered with Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan to help stock its shelves.

“Gleaners is a food bank. They supply to pantries. Those pantries have to register with Gleaners and meet certain requirements. Once we did that, we can get resources from them as a registered pantry. They are a great partner in this.”

Strauss said the pantry is filling a need that is growing throughout colleges across the country. He believes students’ educations shouldn’t suffer because they lack necessities.

“If a student is hungry, how can they study?” said Strauss. “With our strategic plan focused on being a diverse and inclusive campus and being a welcoming place for students, we want students to be able to focus on the goal of studying and graduating.”