SUNY Oswego recently opened a pantry with food, toiletries and winter clothing to meet a need among college students who sometimes lack these necessities.

The Students Helping Oz Peers project—or S.H.O.P. for short—opened its pantry in October and is open from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, and noon to 3 p.m. on Fridays in Room 3 in Penfield Library’s basement. Additional times can be arranged on an appointment basis by emailing the S.H.O.P. at shop@oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-2446.

“Food insecurity issues affect students at colleges and universities everywhere,” Dean of Students Jerri Howland said. An October 2016 report by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness found 20 percent of students at four-year schools across the nation qualified as having very low food security, with 48 percent of respondents reporting food insecurity in the previous 30 days.

Some students report they must choose between eating enough and buying books, Howland explained, and some on meal plans choose the lowest-cost plan, though they may need more food.

“When you have to make a choice between buying books and food, well, we don’t want students to have to make that choice,” she said. “Most of the time you suffer in silence until a peer or a staff member identifies there’s a need.”

The effort has roots in the Student Association and student affairs offices recognizing there are students enrolled in the college who need food and clothing assistance. The Counseling Services Center and Walker Health Center had existing interactions with students found without basic necessities and have been serving them confidentially.

Student Association President Emily Nassir brought the pantry idea up in her weekly meeting with Howland, and they started recruiting others who could help make the project a reality. A fall 2015 meeting that included Howland, Nassir, Director of Campus Life Earnest Washington, Director of Counseling Services Kate Wolfe-Lyga, Walker Health Center Director Angela Brown and mental health counselor Jane LeBlanc cemented the college’s plans to create a food and clothing pantry.

“Our job is to advocate for the students who need help and to make sure the college experience is an enjoyable one,” Nassir said. “We’re really happy to be able to help – that’s why we’re here.”

Solid startup

Nearly $4,000 was raised in the spring to seed the pantry, including $3,194.79 through Student Association’s Miss-A-Meal fundraiser, $710 from the Oswego College Foundation Inc. and an additional $15 donation from a department.

“We are excited about those gifts, and we’ve started an account,” Howland said.

Oswego worked with the College and University Food Bank Alliance, which offers a campus pantry toolkit.

Providing a location in the center of campus allows any students—traditional and non-traditional—to make use of it. The Penfield site offers some privacy for those accepting services, if they so desire. Students in need still may have a lot of pride that prevents them from getting help with food and other necessities, Howland noted.

Helping hand

Howland counts herself among those who have benefitted from generosity at the right time.

“I definitely identify with those students. I come from a low socioeconomic background,” said Howland, who was from Baltimore, raised in a single-parent family and the first in her family to attend college. “I remember showing up on campus with a bag. I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat.”

Through hard work and the assistance of others, Howland made it all the way through her doctorate and now finds herself in a position to provide leadership to help others struggling economically. She said there is also a strong ethical lesson not to be judgmental.

The pantry and issues of food and other needs among students provide opportunities for teaching, learning and service, with student volunteers staffing the pantry. “We are glad it’s students serving students,” Howland said. “It’s a great collaboration for our community.”

While confidential interactions with the counseling services and health centers demonstrated a level of student need, the college has started outreach to make all students aware of the new pantry and its services. Howland said they expect to find more need as college breaks approach, so that even when classes are not in session, the pantry will be available by appointment to students who are still in the area.

While non-perishable foods, clothing and toiletries have been gathered, donations of more are welcome, and monetary donations also are appreciated. Those interested can send checks for S.H.O.P. to the attention of Howland, Washington or Nassir.

Nassir said the Student Association plans to staff a table in the Marano Campus Center for additional donations to the pantry and that SA plans to increase the outreach for the project “so more students know that it’s available and that we’re here to support them.”

Those with questions about using the pantry or looking to donate can email shop@oswego.edu.