Mustang Market fights hunger on campus

The Feed A Mustang food drive conducted by SMSU faculty and staff recently donated more than 300 pounds of food and school supplies to the Mustang Market food pantry. The pantry has served university students since 2019. From left to right are: Jen Goblish, Communication Studies Program; Theresa Sumerfelt, Athletics Department; Vickie Abel, Coordinator of the Mustang Market and Accessibility Services; Yordanos Gebreselasse, Graduate Assistant in the Mustang Market; and Jim Smalley, Social Work Program.

MARSHALL — Food insecurity is a problem that affects students at Southwest Minnesota State University, Vickie Abel said. Over the past year, the Mustang Market food pantry has seen the numbers of SMSU students using it each month almost double.

“Last year, before September, we probably had numbers that were in the 70s,” said Abel, the Mustang Market coordinator and coordinator of accessibility services at SMSU. In the 2023-24 academic year, the number of students visiting the Mustang Market rose to more than 120 a month. In February, a total of 144 students were served by the Market.

Community partnerships play a big role in supporting the Mustang Market, Abel said. This spring, a food drive conducted by SMSU staff and faculty gathered more than 240 pounds of food and 83 pounds of school supplies, cleaning supplies and personal items for the Mustang Market. On Thursday, members of the Sunrise Rotary Club of Marshall also presented a $500 donation to the Mustang Market.

While the support is positive, organizers are also thinking about whether the Market needs to expand its services to better fit student needs. “We’re looking at, do we need to have it more often?” Abel said.

The Mustang Market was started in 2019, through a collaboration between Healthy56258’s Nutrition Network and SMSU’s Center for Civic and Community Engagement. The Market is open once a month, September through April, for university students.

“Primarily our food comes from Second Harvest in St. Paul,” Abel said. However, the Market also receives bread from Hy-Vee, and some perishable foods from Chartwells, the university’s food service provider.

Abel said the two most in-demand items at the Mustang Market are rice and cooking oil.

It’s hard to say for certain exactly why more SMSU students are turning to the Mustang Market now, Abel said. However, she said a student-led research project last fall showed there was a need for the food pantry.

In the study, a survey of SMSU students found that almost half of survey respondents were food insecure, based on USDA standards. A total of 52% of respondents said they either often or sometimes couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals. A total of 46% of respondents said they often or sometimes worried whether their food would run out before they had money to buy more.

On the other hand, 80% of survey respondents said they felt little to no stigma in using the Mustang Market, Abel said.

The Mustang Market is supported by the SMSU Foundation, as well as financial and other donations, Abel said. Other community groups have also come together to support the Market, including SMSU Gold College students, area Lutheran churches, and even a group of area knitters who made winter hats and mittens for SMSU students.

The Mustang Market is also one of the causes that people can donate to for M4L (Mustangs 4 Life) Day, a 24-hour online fundraising event on April 25. SMSU spokespeople said so far, the Mustang Market M4L campaign has raised more than $600 for the Market.

Abel said financial donations are the most successful way to help support the Mustang Market. The Market also has a donation drop-off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the SMSU Elizabeth Lockwood Alumni & Visitor Center on East College Drive.


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