Food insecurity is becoming the enemy for many people post-pandemic, which is no surprise. Within this affected group are students — more specifically, students within the Boise State community and the numbers are increasing monthly.
In the month of August alone, Boise State’s Campus Food Pantry welcomed over 2,000 people when they were running under part-time hours. The pantry has received many donations from the community and have also increased their budget to accommodate the waves of students who continue to flow into the pantry every day.
For the month of September, the pantry saw 560 new households and 1,557 individual students, making the number of student visits a total of 4,018. This is almost double the amount of August visits which came out to be around 2,200.
Student Basic Needs Case Manager Michelle Cain started working with the pantry in August 2021. Since then, she has been working on accommodating the basic needs of both students and the food pantry. Cain supervises a team of staff, including students, who work within the pantry to keep it running efficiently.
“I oversee the food pantry as a whole; half of my job is food pantry and the other half is meeting with students around basic needs and insecurities that work with folks around the housing, financial needs, food insecurity, medical care,” Cain said. “And then I meet with students about any other things that really come up in the Dean of Students Office … I supervise the team, help with other grants, donor relations and oversee projects.”
Junior communication major Audrey Thompson works as the Food Pantry specialist. During Thompson’s first year at the pantry, business was slow and she recalls seeing about 100 people per month. However, the pantry started to pick up speed during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the amount of students in need who were in the isolation housing or who were struggling with affording food and basic necessities during this time.
Now, Thompson claims to see around 100-200 students using the pantry per day.
“I was just looking for a job my freshman year. I think [the Food Pantry is] super cool, because I have a huge heart for people,” Thompson said. “And then once I started working here, I started learning more about the food insecurity that we have on campus and I think it just continued to push that passion for me.”
The pantry serves everyone within the Boise State community and sees a wide range of students, from international students to students who are raising families.
Due to an increase in meal plan prices, the team has seen an increase of student attendance due to the limited meal swipes that are included in each plan.
Since spring 2021, the pantry added two refrigerators which increased their donation criteria and as of two weeks ago, the pantry received a generous donation of $20,000 from Albertsons.
“We just got that big donation from Albertsons, they’re a big supporter of us,” Cain said. “They provide financial donations and with every semester, they provide food products to us. They support some of our bigger projects, such as our Thanksgiving meal kits.”
Donations to the pantry have ranged from abundant to sparse as the pandemic has shifted, and since most food banks are strapped for supplies, it is difficult to maintain a consistent supply to the Campus Food Pantry. As of right now the Idaho Food Bank is supplying about 50-60% of the food donations. Produce, bread and eventually meat, however, will consistently flow into the pantry to keep students coming back.
They have also added new freezers to their space, which are going to be set up very soon. The pantry also participates in a food rescue program where their team picks up products from food banks and grocery stores that are close to expiration and incorporates them in the pantry for participant use. With the increase in the number of partnerships, the pantry hopes to utilize all of the resources they can, to the best of their ability.
“We have a new freezer, that’s brand new to us and we’ll be getting another freezer hopefully in a few weeks,” Cain said. “But that will be able to help us provide things like frozen meat and frozen veggies for students.”
Since Cain’s start at Boise State, the pantry has doubled its staff, and they have also added a student delivery driver who aids the pantry in picking up supplies and donations for the pantry’s use. This new addition will be a vital resource for the holiday season, when the university shuts down toward the end of the academic semester.
During the holidays … we will do Thanksgiving meal kits, [and] we also do food boxes for the residence halls during the breaks or right before breaks,” Cain said. “We provide some boxes of snacks and easy-to-cook meals, microwaveable meals, that sort of thing.”
The Thanksgiving Meal Kit program is available to 200 Boise State students. Inside each kit, there are different ingredients to make a Thanksgiving meal, like potatoes, stuffing, gravy, rolls, pie, vegetables and much more. In addition, Albertsons will be providing $15 gift cards to allow students to purchase any other ingredients they wish to have during this time.
Meal kit pick-up will be available on Friday, Nov. 18, from 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Campus Food Pantry. Sign-ups are available online.
The pantry will be closed when the university goes on break for holidays, but they will operate part time on some days when school isn’t in session to ensure that students’ needs are met.
Cain and her team are trying to expand on the space to ensure that every person who visits the pantry is satisfied and taken care of. In addition, Cain wants to ensure that the pantry has enough space to operate in regard to a stockroom and a donation processing area. However, finding the space to expand is the issue at hand.
When discussing space to expand, the Idaho Food Bank and the Campus Food Pantry are joining forces to provide food to people on campus. On Oct. 19, 2022, the Quad will be hosting the pantry from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and anyone can come by and grab some free groceries.
Cain uses her platform as a student basic needs case manager to talk with students about financial and food insecurities. She helps students problem solve and get connected to the resources that will help them to ensure success for their futures beyond their time at Boise State. For students in financial crises, there is a student emergency fund that can be accessed.
For Thompson and Cain alike, they encourage students to get to know their resources and use them to their advantage, during any time of need or just in everyday life. The pantry is open to everyone and anyone and there are no limitations to what each student can access within this space. It’s a safe space for all.