This year, Macalester’s Open Pantry is partnering with Second Harvest Heartland with the goal of offering a more reliable and greater variety of food to students experiencing food insecurity. This new model, which was launched Sept. 19, introduces restricted hours of operation and a staffed system.
This change is taking place after Campus Center Programs and Services (CCPS) took over management of the pantry last year amidst COVID-19 student staffing shortages. Under the financial pressure of the pandemic, CCPS met with Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) to discuss a partnership with Second Harvest Heartland, a local food bank, to supply more affordable groceries to stock the pantry. This partnership brings down average food costs from $1.08 to 30 cents per pound and offers a greater variety of ethnic foods.
The Open Pantry must report data back to Second Harvest Heartland and to Macalester, however, to prove the necessity for the program. In order to gather this data, trained student staff must be present to weigh groceries as they check out. Staff will have pantry users fill out a form, which is accessible through a QR code. Students will answer basic questions about past pantry use, on- or off-campus living and the weight of groceries picked out. These data help demonstrate the college’s needs.
The reporting requirements make the pantry slightly less “open” than it was in the past — it’s now open with restricted hours.
“We’re not able to continue operating the way we were before,” Director of Campus Center Programs and Services Andy Williams said. “In a perfect world, I would love to keep the pantry open and partner with Second Harvest, but with their guidelines, that’s not something we can manage at this time.”
This new staffing requirement restricts the pantry’s open hours, which may impede access or add additional stress to students who struggle with food insecurity.
MCSG Student Services and Relations Committee member Bobbie Pennington ’24 has been involved in the Open Pantry’s transition.
“Open Pantry was pretty much always open,” Pennington said. “You could walk in at your leisure, take whatever you wanted and walk out — nothing would be reported and nobody would be there to supervise what’s going on.”
Now, with hours reduced to only three days a week, students must email the Open Pantry to schedule an appointment if they need immediate access to food or groceries.
“Students have raised concerns about privacy,” Pennington said. “Having a student worker be there, seeing who’s using the pantry… might add more anxiety for students who are going to the Open Pantry.”
Williams says that pantry staff are trained in the sensitivity of food insecurity, and data collected is as impersonal as possible. CCPS is also starting up a website for online orders to the open pantry. This is meant to be a more anonymous option so that students can shop online and go in for quick pickup.
CCPS welcomes student feedback as this new model plays out.
“At the end of the day, the goal of this program is to provide a resource to help students fuel their success,” Williams said. “I hope that’s what we’re able to do.”