Montclair State is taking steps to join over 200 campuses across the country in providing food for students in need through a campus food pantry.
The Montclair State food pantry will be located in the first floor of the Student Center, and Associate Dean of Students Fatima deCarvalhos anticipates that it will be open for students in April, with full functionality expected in September.
“There are more and more students who are struggling,” said deCarvalho when speaking about the decision to open up the food pantry, a project which has long been in the works. “They come to the Dean of Students office and sometimes they’ll share [with us] that they don’t have food. They don’t have any money for food and this is not new to Montclair [State].”
In order to meet the need for food, Student Development and Campus Life made plans to open up the pantry, starting with asking the community for donations, either in non-perishable food items or in gift cards to grocery stores and other fiscal donations, that can help students who find themselves struggling to make ends meet.
A study done by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Sara Goldrick-Rab published in December 2015 found that 20 percent of the 4,000 undergraduates she surveyed were considered as having very low food security and 22 percent had reported skipping or cutting down on the size of their meals because there wasn’t enough money to pay for food. Goldrick-Rab’s research included students from Essex County Community College, located just 12.3 miles away from Montclair State in Newark.
Sonja Tillman, the program assistant for Student Life Service Centers who is on the team to make the food pantry a reality, spoke about some of the financial obstacles which can lead students to food insecurity: “Some students are able to pay for tuition and books, but when that is all paid for, they are left with little or nothing for basic necessities, including food. With the opening of this pantry, it is my hope that we can come together as a community and help one another without stigma or shame.”
Some organizations have already made plans to hold their own food drives to donate to the food pantry. During Greek Week this spring, Greek Life will collect donations to give to the food pantry so that it can build up its resources before opening, according to deCarvalho. She described the project as a “grassroots” effort, so community donations will be the most important contributions as the pantry is established.
Once the food pantry is open, the program will require students to fill out a first-time application so those who run it can assess the level of need for the student in question, explained deCarvalho. She noted that, since the pantry will open its doors in April, many students may be low on their meal plans and the pantry can provide them with food to get through the rest of the semester.
Additionally, deCarvalho said that the program will be able to check with Dining Services to verify that a student is low on his or her meal plan before approving an application. For commuter students, deCarvalho said that they are hoping for honesty from them regarding their financial situations.
Regardless of whether a student lives on or off campus, deCarvalho stressed the importance of providing students who may find themselves temporarily food-insecure with the opportunity to receive a consistent source of food from the university community. “We don’t want to deter people who are struggling today. You know, they didn’t get a check or their situation is temporary.”
Eventually, the food pantry hopes to expand to provide food for staff and faculty in need, although at the beginning, it will only be available for student use, according to deCarvalho. They also hope to enter fiscal sponsorships to help provide resources to students. For now, organizers are looking to the university community to give back so that they can offer food options to students in need.
“As Red Hawks, we need to be there to support and help one another,” said deCarvalho. “Whatever [students] donate is to help one of their fellow classmates—someone they live with. We have a responsibility to help one another. Why not start here at home?”