SMSU opens permanent food pantry

Mustang Market is open Tuesday for students

Photo by Karin Elton Crystal Watts, a member of AmeriCorps Health VISTA, and Melissa Scholten, director at the Center for Civic & Community Engagement, stand by shelves of non-perishable food items, part of the new student food pantry at SMSU.

MARSHALL — At an experimental “pop-up” food pantry event last December, 61 students were served in 30 minutes.

With that, Crystal Watts had her answer — a permanent food shelf was needed on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.

Watts, financed by AmeriCorps VISTA, which is part of Corporation for National and Community Service, works with Melissa Scholten, director at the Center for Civic & Community Engagement as SMSU, and has been researching food insecurity for college students for the past two years and has developed a food pantry program for SMSU. She will hand over the care of the food pantry to Scholten in July.

Watts said a lot of students were in the free and reduced program in elementary and high schools and the need doesn’t change once they graduate from high school.

At the pop-up event, there was no prior publicity, said Scholten. The Center for Civic & Community Engagement is a high profile spot in Bellows Academic with commuting students and residential students alike going back and forth.

“It’s a very busy hallway,” she said.

At the first permanent food pantry event Sept. 11, Mustang Market, as it came to be called, served 91 students with 600 pounds of food and hygiene items.

“Fifty students were waiting outside before we opened,” said Watts of the Sept. 11 event.

The students asked what do they need to do to get the food and hygiene items. The answer was nothing except for filling out a form once a year. The form is used to track how many are served and how many pounds of food are given out.

The campus food shelf works with Second Harvest Heartland to receive a delivery of food.

“For the first two times we will work under the umbrella of United Community Action Partnership and then we’ll be on our own,” said Watts.

The next time the food pantry is open is from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Later that afternoon the Office for Civic & Community Engagement will have an open house and SMSU food drive kick-off. The office, BA 161, is the old computer services office and before that it was the campus bookstore.

The pantry will be open once a month and by appointment.

After every food shelf event, students were asked to give feedback.

“They leave suggestions at what they would like to see,” Watts said.

At the Mustang Market students can shop for only what they will use instead of receiving a box full of things they won’t use. They get items from each area of the pantry.

“We try to provide a protein, like tuna, and a pasta, a cream soup and a can of veggies and they can make a casserole,” said Watts. “We have peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches.”

When procuring products, Watts has to keep in mind things ethnic groups might like such as tortillas, rice and beans, “super basic things. Comfort food.”

Another area is knitted caps, mittens and scarves from Holy Redeemer Catholic Church.

“We receive donations all the time,” said Watts.

Something the students asked for was laundry detergent.

“If you can’t afford to feed yourself, you’re not going to afford to do your laundry,” she said.

Feminine products and toilet paper are other necessities, she said.

“Last time, the (availability of) toilet paper caused a lot of excitement,” she said.

In the fall of 2017, Watts conducted a nutritional survey and received the data she needed to see if there was a need at SMSU.

She also researched the project at websites such as hope4college.com. She found that 36 percent of university students were food insecure based on a survey.

“This is a nationwide problem, not just Marshall,” she said.

Watts said students increasingly have part-time and full-time jobs, but still have times when money runs short.

The community can help by giving monetary donations.

“Monetary donations are always appreciated because that gives students the ability to choose types of items they want to see in the market,” said Watts. “We can buy in bulk and buy in a way that serves a diverse group of students.”

For more information, visit https://www.smsu.edu/campuslife/civicengagement/ways_you_can_help.html

Sponsors include Healthy56258’s Nutrition Network, Campus Religious Center, LuMin, Newman Club, Holy Redeemer, Esther’s Kitchen, UCAP, Second Harvest and Marshall Food4Kids.


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