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Hungry to help: SIU’s new food pantry open to students

Stephanie+Majcen%2C+a+junior+studying+social+work%2C+grabs+food+Monday%2C+Aug.+22%2C+2016%2C+from+the+new+Saluki+food+pantry+in+the+Student+Center.+%E2%80%9CThis+is+awesome+because+I+would+have+had+to+spend+a+lot+of+extra+money%2C%E2%80%9D+Majcen+said.+%E2%80%9CThis+is+food+for+a+couple+of+weeks.+I%E2%80%99m+thankful.%E2%80%9D+%28Autumn+Suyko+%7C+%40autumnsuykoDE%29
Stephanie Majcen, a junior studying social work, grabs food Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, from the new Saluki food pantry in the Student Center. “This is awesome because I would have had to spend a lot of extra money,” Majcen said. “This is food for a couple of weeks. I’m thankful.” (Autumn Suyko | @autumnsuykoDE)

Stephanie Majcen, a junior studying social work, grabs food Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, from the new Saluki food pantry in the Student Center. “This is awesome because I would have had to spend a lot of extra money,” Majcen said. “This is food for a couple of weeks. I’m thankful.” (Autumn Suyko | @autumnsuykoDE)

Stephanie Majcen, a junior studying social work, grabs food Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, from the new Saluki food pantry in the Student Center. “This is awesome because I would have had to spend a lot of extra money,” Majcen said. “This is food for a couple of weeks. I’m thankful.” (Autumn Suyko | @autumnsuykoDE)

By Bekah Sanders

After SIU student Esmeralda Valerio found out she had two weeks to pay two months of rent, she thought she’d have to pick between paying for shelter or food.

“I didn’t have any money for groceries so I was just going to rely on free food on campus from different clubs,” said Valerio, a junior from Chicago studying social work who visited the new Saluki food pantry when it first opened Monday in the lower level of the Student Center.

The pantry, a project pursued by interim Chancellor Brad Colwell last spring, is not the first of its kind established to meet nutritional needs across campuses nationally.

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“We have a responsibility to ensure our students’ needs — including access to nutritional foods — are met so they can focus on academic and career success,” Colwell said in a news release earlier this month. “I encourage the SIU community to contribute to this important undertaking.”

A recent study conducted in part by SIU graduate Loran Morris surveyed food security on four campuses across Illinois, including SIU, found that 35 percent of the 1,882 students sampled had low or very low food security. Food insecurity is here defined as the inability to obtain sufficient nutrition and an adequate amount of food.

SIU student Sara Sauerhage, who became a mother at 20, said she remembered how difficult it can be to balance school needs with other necessities, such as daycare and life emergencies while earning a degree.

“It seems like food is the one [thing] that everyone cuts back on,” said Sauerhage, a graduate assistant in social work who works at the pantry. “You have to pay your electric to have electricity. … You don’t have to go to the grocery store to buy food.”

Sara Sauerhage, a graduate student in social work, packages food Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, during the Saluki Food Drive in the Student Center. “It’s very heart-lifting to know that I’m helping people in the community,” Sauerhage said. “I’ve always wanted to go out and help people, make sure their needs are being met.” (Autumn Suyko | @autumnsuykoDE)

Sara Sauerhage, a graduate student in social work, packages food Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, at SIU’s new food pantry in the Student Center. “It’s very heart lifting to know that I’m helping people in the community,” Sauerhage said. “I’ve always wanted to go out and help people, make sure their needs are being met.” (Autumn Suyko | @autumnsuykoDE)

Though SIU’s Wesley Foundation has an off-campus food pantry students can use, the on-campus pantry was created to better meet the needs of students by offering more options and resources, said Lori Stettler, vice chancellor of student affairs.

Students making their first visit to the pantry must fill out a form either in person or online and present a valid student ID. Then they can fill a handbasket with non-perishable food items and toiletries lining the shelves.

Every month, students can take up to three days of food for each individual family member living with them — which adds up to about 20 to 23 items per person — said Kent Epplin, associate director of the Student Center.

In an effort to keep costs low, the university re-used shelving from the Student Center and asked for food donations and volunteers to run the pantry.

The lower level of the Student Center site provided unused space for the charitable undertaking while also giving students some privacy, Stettler said.

“There should not be any shame associated with using a food pantry,” she said. “But we know with some people it’s hard to be able to admit that you need help.”

A student fills her backpack with food Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, during the Saluki Food Drive at the Student Center. (Autumn Suyko | @autumnsuykoDE)

A student fills her backpack with food Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, at SIU’s new food pantry in the lower level of the Student Center. (Autumn Suyko | @autumnsuykoDE)

A portion of the pantry initiative is also dedicated to providing information about healthy eating and support programs for students.

“We realize that providing food for students is not just the solution for food insecurity,” sustainability coordinator Geory Kurtzhals said of the additional resources. “It is much more complex than that.”

Stettler said the university eventually hopes to reach out to farms for local produce and for the pantry to become a resource center.

The pantry is open from 3 to 6 p.m. on Mondays and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Students interested in donating, volunteering or obtaining food can call 618-453-3760 for more information.

Staff writer Bekah Sanders can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @rsanders_DE.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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