College students face many challenges, and being able to afford food shouldn’t have to be one of them. Many local universities are filling this increasing need by establishing food pantries and other services to help students who may need a hand.
The Providence Food Pantry at La Roche University (LRU) was created a few years ago when they began to notice a growing number of students facing food insecurity, according to Colleen Ruefle, vice president for student life and dean of students. It was a trend that many colleges were seeing, she explained, and like others, LRU decided to create a food pantry.
“At first, we were going to put it somewhere very private so students could use it in privacy, but our students said that they wanted others to know about the resource, and to put it somewhere visible,” Ruefle explained. The pantry is located in one of the residence halls and is open to all students.
The pantry is mainly supplied through faculty, other students, and friends of the university, but all donations are welcome. Foods items include student favorites like ramen noodles and mac-n-cheese, as well as other nonperishable items. The pantry also supplies some toiletry and paper products.
La Roche looks at the food pantry as a service and a ministry. Sister Janet Folkl, associate campus minister, meets with students to help determine their needs. “We want students to be able to form a relationship with Sister Janet so that, if necessary, she can refer them to other services and resources,” Ruefle said.
Other resources include the Sister Candace Introcaso Student Emergency Fund, a program created by the Sisters of Divine Providence in honor of the university’s president. “These are funds to assist students with emergency needs such a death in the family, emergency dental work, or if they need help with rent or utility bills,” Ruefle explained.
The programming was especially helpful during COVID when many students lost their jobs, she said. Students can find information about available services on the college website or by visiting the Office of Student Life.
The university also does periodic special drives such as a clothing drive to help students, particularly those coming from warmer climates who may not have appropriate clothing for Pittsburgh winters. Community members are welcome to donate by visiting https://www.laroche.edu/Support_Us/University_Advancement/Annual_Fund/Annual_Campaigns.
Point Park University began their food pantry in 2017 and has seen a steady increase in use every year, according to Heather Starr Fiedler, chair of community engagement & leadership. The Pioneer Pantry is available to any Point Park student, faculty, or staff member.
“We don’t require demonstrated need. In addition, we hold monthly produce pop-ups on campus where we bring in fresh produce and other items straight from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Anyone is welcome to stop by our table and stock up, no reservations or order needed,” said Starr Fiedler.
The University welcomes donations from the public and hosts periodic donation drives. “We also have clubs, departments and other organizations that hold fundraisers and canned food drives for the pantry,” Starr Fiedler added. “And we have two aeroponic tower gardens in our department where we grow fresh produce on a regular basis that we give to students through our Pioneer Patch garden initiative.”
In addition to the food pantry, the university is currently rebranding their clothing pantry to a thrift store, The Bison Exchange.
“We hold annual drives for things like winter clothing; last year, we gave out hats, scarves, gloves, coats and more,” said Starr Fiedler. “We also raised over $3,000 from faculty and staff to provide Thanksgiving dinner supplies to students either staying on campus over Thanksgiving break or staying with families who were in financial need.”
To make a donation or get more information about the pantry and other programming, visit https://www.pointpark.edu/academics/departmentofcommunityengagement/index.
Duquesne University assists their students through the Brother Keating Initiative, a food pantry overseen by Jeanie Kocinski, Office of Freshman Development & Disability Services, who said that she has noticed a large increase in need since COVID.
The process to receive food and other items is easy—students make an appointment with Kocinski, answer a few questions, and she gives them a tour of the pantry.
“They can take whatever they need; we don’t limit it,” she said. Like the other college pantries, they stock nonperishables including canned foods, pasta, rice and cereal, as well as health and toiletry items. Students come in once a month to restock. The pantry is qualified as a United Way Agency, so they can receive donations via that channel as well as donations from staff, faculty and the community.
“We also give them a gift card from Giant Eagle or Aldi the first time they visit so that they can purchase milk and other perishable items,” Kocinski said. Those interested in donating may reach Kocinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students needing dress clothing can also find assistance at Duquesne at the Career Closet through the Center for Career Development. “We loan students professional clothing—suits for men and women, dresses, dress shirts and slacks, even shoes, socks, and suits,” said Lynn Schwartzmiller, Center for Career Development.
Like the pantry, the closet is a United Way Agency and they also participate in JCPenney’s Suit Up Event, which allows the University to purchase clothing at a discount. According to Schwartzmiller, students take advantage of the program for networking events, job interviews and other professional events.
”We had a few students borrow ties for graduation,” she said, noting that they have also had graduation gowns donated. Donated clothing that can’t be used at the closet is sold at periodic Dollar Days with proceeds going back into the program. Those interested in the program for donations or assistance may reach out to Schwartzmiller at email@example.com.
At CCAC, Campus Cupboards, food pantries, and Campus Closets are available to students.
“They are at all of our campuses and centers,” said Specialist/Adjunct Faculty Member Dena Rose Buzila, CCAC Media Relations.
The college works in conjunction with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and campus food drives to provide students with food. Students fill out a simple form and can receive food as often as they need.
“We have nonperishables, household items, toiletries and some of our campuses have produce,” said Buzila. CCAC South also has a garden where harvests are provided to the students as well.
At the Campus Closets, students can select professional attire such as suits, dresses, ties, shoes, handbags and other accessories for job interviews and meetings. “Our employees have been very generous and make most of the donations,” Buzila said.
The Student Emergency GAP fund, funded through the CCAC Educational Foundation, provides emergency funds for students facing unexpected expenses such as car repairs, childcare issues, and more. Another resource—the result of COVID—is a laptop loaner program, where students can borrow a laptop to assist with their studies.
CCAC Resource Navigators are at each campus to assist students in identifying not only CCAC resources, but services available in the community. “They serve as the point of contact and can put our students in touch with all sorts of assistance,” said Buzila.
More information is available at https://www.ccac.edu.