Illinois State University students started their second week of classes Monday. By now they’ve got a place to stay, a bag full of books, and a jam-packed schedule of classes, work, and extracurriculars.
One thing that may be missing is access to nutritious food. The new School Street Food Pantry aims to fix that. It opens Sept. 21 inside the Normal First United Methodist Church, right next to ISU.
Research shows 45 percent of college students nationally face some type of food insecurity, said Jeanna Campbell, a graduate student at ISU who’s one of the lead organizers of the pantry. Similar studies show the same is true at ISU, she said.
That level of food insecurity among college students can surprise people, Campbell said.
“Their surprise always shocks me. I’m Type 1 diabetic. So coming into school was a burden. I have medical bills. My previous jobs I was working at poverty wage. Having limited resources before entering university, I didn’t get more resources all of a sudden coming into school. I appreciated the opportunity to get my education, but I also didn’t have a lot of support in terms of access to food. There are a lot of resources on campus, but there isn’t necessarily a specific location for students who are food insecure to relay those insecurities,” Campbell said. “It’s definitely something that can be easily overlooked.”
The School Street Food Pantry will provide fresh vegetables and fruits, Vitamin D-rich products like milk, and toiletries, among other items. The pantry will also offer classes, helping students learn how to cook, create a personal budget, or sign up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Organizers expect the pantry to primarily serve college students—and not just those attending ISU—living off campus. There’s not an affordable grocery store close to ISU’s campus.
“Another very, very important demographic might be student-athletes,” said Noah Tang, a senior history-social sciences education major and one of the pantry’s organizers. “Because of NCAA rules, they’re not allowed to work outside their sports, so they’re not actually going to have time to make their own money to buy food as well. That also means they’re time impoverished, so they can’t go get their food, just like other students are (time impoverished).”
The pantry came together relatively quickly. Normal Township Supervisor Sarah Grammer, whose office administers assistance to those in financial hardship, became aware of the need last year. She said college students came to her office, struggling to pay their rent and even their electric bills. They were obviously hungry.
And while there are other food pantries in Bloomington-Normal, Grammer found that most are only open weekday mornings, when students typically have classes.
“I recognized a gap,” Grammer said.
Grammer soon connected with a minister at the Normal First United Methodist Church. She then connected with Campbell through an ISU professor. Campbell was already interested in the issue, as was Tang. They all began working together.
School Street Food Pantry will be open from 4-6 p.m. every Friday. The Normal First United Methodist Church couldn’t be closer to campus, just a few steps from Milner Library.
“We’re very aware of where we sit geographically. And we want to be good neighbors with ISU and with college students,” said Kim Burke, minister at Normal First United Methodist Church. “It just seems like a great fit, a way to be good neighbors. We feel very fortunate and privileged to be able to do that.”
Today’s college students are not just food insecure, Tang said. They also don’t have enough time to address it. Tang has found himself pushing back against “back in my day” skeptics who say college students can simply work a part-time job to buy themselves all the food they need.
“They don’t realize that the cost of college since they’ve gone to school, and the cost of living in general, has just skyrocketed,” said Tang. “And the minimum wage’s buying power hasn’t increased since the 1970s. Having all of that being crushed onto students at once is insane.”
The pantry is still looking for volunteers. Contact the pantry if you're interested.
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