Open Pantry addresses food insecurity at Mac

Barbara Kuzma

Did you know that Macalester has a student pantry in the basement of Kagin? Open Pantry carries nonperishable goods like pasta, beans and rice as well as basic toiletries.

“The Open Pantry is a space that provides essentials to anyone with food and ‘basic need’ item insecurities,” Ariana Hones ’18, who ran Open Pantry during the 2017-2018 academic year, wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “This could be due to numerous factors including financial insecurity, transportation inaccessibility to budget conscious grocery stores and mental health reasons. This space has always been open to all and relies on individuals to assess their own needs and take accordingly.”

2017-2018 was the first academic year that Open Pantry was operational, but its inception happened much earlier.

“The idea was originally born from 2015/16 Vice President of MCSG Jolena Zabel [’16]. She wanted to create a space where students could pick up things that were not financially accessible to them, but were important to student well being,” Hones wrote.

“The motivation was to provide food security and help people decrease their stress levels,” MCSG President-elect Blair Cha ’20 said. “We asked what can we do as students so we researched other colleges’ open pantry systems and what they did.”

According to Hones, many students raised questions about the use of student funds when MCSG decided to fund Open Pantry.

“There were important questions asked about if this was a proper use of student funds,” Hones said. “In an ideal world, funding from the Open Pantry would not come from this pool of money and instead from the institution.”

Establishing a balance between student privacy and documenting student visits for continued funding has taken time.

“In its first year, we tried our best to have the pantry always stocked with food and basic need items,” Hones said. In order to respect privacy, we had people put a “bean” in a container to show that they had visited and to write down the items that they took. By the end of the year we had well over 500 beans in the jar, which is a rough estimate of how many times the pantry was visited, not by how many people. I like the “bean in jar” concept too because, not only did it allow for data collection that respects the intentions of the space, but it also allowed visually for visitors to see that they were not alone in their need for food and basic need items. Food insecurity can be a very isolating journey and one of our goals with the Open Pantry is to raise awareness that this issue exists on our campus and we need to come together to take care of each other and offer support.”

The organizers of Open Pantry spent their first year setting up operations. The challenge this academic year was making sure the pantry was financially sustainable.

“The Open Pantry in its first year was hard work. There was borrowing transportation to get to the store, hauling so many bags of supplies to Kagin’s doors, checking on feedback and supplies, picking up bread from Breadsmith and bagging it so it would stay fresh,” Hones said.
Cha was involved with Open Pantry during the 2017/18 academic year when Hones laid much of the groundwork for its success and remembers the trial and error that went into stocking Open Pantry.

“We went to Target and bought $2,000 worth of hygiene items and food just to get open pantry started, and then we learned about Amazon Prime and were like like, ‘why didn’t we do that before?’ [Hones] set the groundwork for it and this year I worked to secure steady funding for it so that it won’t be a problem moving forward,” Cha said.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, MCSG granted Open Pantry $500 for operations.

“I agreed to it because I knew that the administration would help me out and the President’s Office and Carol Rosenberg donated a total of $3,000 for Open Pantry to get us started,” Cha said.

The Rosenbergs heard about Open Pantry, and the need for funding through staff and student advocacy.

“Student affairs people like Andrew Wells, Donna Lee were pressuring them with [Hones] and me to let them know that this is important to students and just needs a starter since it doesn’t have the strength, but if you donate we will have the capacity to continue it,” Cha said. “1,000 dollars came from the President’s Office, so Brian’s presidential fund, probably, and from Carol Rosenberg. She donated $2,000 out of pocket – It’s a lot.”

“The donation was really the work of my wife Carol [Rosenberg], who met one of the student organizers of Open Pantry and was inspired to support the effort,” President Brian Rosenberg wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “Clearly there is a need to ensure that all of our students have their basic needs met, and the Open Pantry plays an important role as we work toward that goal.”

Moving forward, the money will stem from the Community Chest, a $10,000 yearly fund distributed by MCSG’s Student Services and Relations Committee (SSRC).

“We operated on 3,000 dollars this academic year but I am anticipating around 5,000 dollars, since committee chest is 10,000 dollars total,” Cha said.

Open Pantry is open every Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through the end of the school year.