PSU students coming to the aid of their own
Portland State students are rallying around a common cause: to help one another.
The PSU food pantry is working on awareness and commitment. One of the most important things the university can do is to meet the needs of students; ASPSU’s food pantry does that.
But no matter how much potential it has as a resource, it’s poorly utilized, seldom available and cheapened by incentives for donations.
ASPSU saw a need for students in the community and started a box for donations. They’ve since expanded into Smith Memorial Student Union, room 325, and added clothes and other amenities in addition to food.
The pantry largely relies on good faith. This comes at a price. Students are allowed to take five pieces of food a day, every day, but they don’t ensure that those people are PSU students.
“People can come in and we don’t ask for ID or anything at this point because we don’t want to be taking other students’ information,” ASPSU Operations Director Tsionah Novick said. “It puts us and them in an awkward situation. People don’t always want to be coming in asking for help.”
Not asking anything allows non-PSU students to take advantage of the resource. They can check IDs without tracking student information. Asking students to show ID doesn’t exceedingly infringe on their privacy. It doesn’t rule out the possibility of former students and non-PSU students borrowing others’ IDs, but it would decrease fraudulent patrons.
The concern is that it would deter use. If students feel singled out, they’re less likely to utilize the resource. That isn’t a failure on policies, but on openness of the pantry itself. If students feel like they’re in an inviting community, they’re more likely to use the resources in it.
ASPSU is helping resolve that problem by opening it up to students to paint the pantry. The small white room with a concrete floor and eclectic bookshelves isn’t the most inviting place and certainly doesn’t instill a sense of community.
Creating greater community involvement means generating donations. When the pantry is running low on food, professors and organizations host food drives and even offer extra credit for participation.
When aid comes with a catch, it cheapens the experience. Students aren’t rallying around a cause; they’re rallying around grades. It may generate involvement, but it doesn’t build a community and or raise esteem for the pantry.
People can donate food at any time. ASPSU and the pantry accept donations and there are donation boxes across campus. With so many other boxes and causes, people they go largely unnoticed. If organizations don’t take it on themselves to generate donations, people don’t participate.
Part of the problem with this lack of community falls on the pantry itself. Not only is the pantry physically out of the way, it’s almost never open. The posted hours are from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, but even then, there are no guarantees. The pantry isn’t open when volunteers aren’t available. That means sometimes it’s open at times not posted and not open at times when it is.
Volunteers are hard to coordinate. When other priorities come up, the pantry gets overlooked. This puts the greatest strain at the greatest need. If everyone’s busier around mid-terms, finals and before breaks, then not only is that the time when people need help the most, but it is also the time they’re least likely to consistently get it.
The pantry is also not open during school closures. With a five-pieces-of-food limit per day, this leaves students almost a month without help this December.
If able to come back daily, students can stock up before the holiday. But this is not the case for the food pantry, obviously.
Everyone needs help at some point, especially around the holidays and with unexpected expenditures. Even for the most frugal spenders and planners, life happens. The food pantry is there when students need a little extra help, but is by no means a permanent solution.
Trying to juggle working and school puts students in great need. SNAP, or “food stamps” as it is commonly known, is a good resource on a consistent basis. Eligibility is based on income and expenses. Most students with employment are eligible for up to $200 a month. It does mean going through an application, process and for more immediate needs the ASPSU food pantry is a viable resource.
Part of the problem is the lack of resources. No student-fee money goes into the food pantry and, until this year, there wasn’t a specific person whose job was to coordinate it.
“We’re also looking at other ways that we can really institutionalize it, so that the work doesn’t have to start over every year,” Novick said.
The PSU community needs to take on the responsibility of building the resource and helping one another. The pantry’s success largely depends on students.
People need to create an environment in which asking for help is okay and giving help is a common practice. As great as it is that the food pantry is available, it is falling short of its potential. It needs greater hours, more volunteers and increased involvement.
If PSU is our home, then we have the responsibility to build it up. And that responsibility falls not entirely on the shoulders of the establishment, but also on the people who make up that community. Only when people rally together for a common cause can something be a success.
Ask for help from the Oregon Food Bank or Elders in Action in coordinating a reliable framework of volunteers until you get off the ground. It’s okay to ask for for student ID if the program is only for students and their families but it would be better to open the program to the community as a public service from the school if you could secure supplies. Nick Fish’s office can connect you to all sorts of partners. Good luck!
I found this article strange… I’ve been to the pantry many times and have found its anonymity helpful. And any time someone wasn’t staffing it, someone from the ASPSU office would open the door for me. Honestly, there are a few times I don’t know what I would have done without it.
Oh, and I talked to one of the staff members who said that they are working on getting support from the Oregon Food Bank and they’ve been actively working on gaining more volunteers. Any time there is a new thing that runs completely off of volunteers, there will be bumps in the road. Kudos to ASPSU for this though!
Rachel, I think this article was more of a cry for help from someone who’d like to see ASPSU overcome these problems, which, if it’s any consolation, are similar to difficulties encountered by many small food pantries. If discussing the pantry’s limitations inspires people to help, then so much the better.
I saw your food bank on the news tonight. I live in the area and am one of those folks who would love to donate. Please let me know how I can help out! I think it is a great idea to offer this service on a college campus. I have a nineteen year old daughter and I am observing the struggles of so many of my daughter’s friends. There was so much more opportunity when I was that age. It is really up to those of us who are blessed to be employed and have so much to help out the younger generation.