By Garrett Cote
In 2017, a group of Springfield College graduate students wandered into the office of Charlene Elvers, the College’s Director of the Center for Service and Leadership. They had a serious complication and needed assistance: they told Elvers they didn’t have access to enough food to get them through a month at a time and they were struggling with eating a sufficient amount.
After further research revealed to Elvers that more schools in the area were also dealing with food insecurity, she knew action needed to be taken.
“We started looking around at other campuses and what was going on, and realized that food insecurity was really something that has gotten more prevalent over the years,” Elvers said.
“So we decided to start this food pantry, and we got it going very quickly with donations from mostly faculty and staff at the time.”
The pantry was originally located in the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement on Eastern Avenue, about one block off of campus, and has stayed there for the past several years. Once the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the pantry decided to add an online and curbside pickup option to best fit students’ constantly-changing schedules and follow distancing protocols.
Now, with the pantry relocating to the main floor of the Student Union (where the POD used to be), the curbside option will still be available, as well as the pantry itself being more visible and accessible being in one of the most highly trafficked buildings on Alden Street.
“Given that we’re now in the Union, it’s just going to be that much more noticeable and easier to be open on the evenings or weekends if that’s what students are looking for,” Elvers said.
Springfield College announced its new partnership with Swipe Out Hunger – a national program that is centered around finding solutions to food insecurity on college campuses nationwide – this year, thanks in large part to Bill Guerrero, Vice President for Finance and Administration, who introduced the program to Elvers.
Swipe Out Hunger will allow students to donate leftover meals from their food plans directly to other students’ accounts on PrideNet.
“We’ve just started this on PrideNet, and it should be available in a week or two,” Elvers said.
“There will be a button on the main bar of PrideNet that says ‘Swipe Out Hunger,’ and students are going to be able to click on that. It will take them to a form where they can request meals.”
As far as donating the meals to those requesting, it can be done through the Springfield College GET App, available on all mobile devices.
“A number of students should already have the app, because that’s how you had to get your meals last year,” Elvers said. “So through the GET App, somewhere in there it will say donate meals, and if you click on that you can donate as many meals as you have available.”
Once a student requests a meal, it will automatically be loaded onto their account for them to use immediately at Cheney Dining Hall or a meal exchange at the Student Union.
“We are going to be launching a campaign for students to donate meals, because obviously this is not going to work if we don’t already have some meals donated,” Elvers said.
“After a student requests meals, they will be placed right onto their ID-card. So nobody is going to know which students have donated a meal or not, which is really a great way to do it.”
The majority of the pantry foods are non-perishable, due to them potentially needing a long shelf-life. Elvers would love to expand to perishable foods such as eggs, cheese and milk, but she needs to know that there will be enough consumers before doing so.
“If we start getting perishable foods, that stuff has to come and go much quicker,” she said.
“First of all, we need to get those foods on a weekly basis, and we also need to have the traffic coming through that will take that stuff. It’s going to expand with the more people that find out about this and use it.”
A grand-opening is still being planned for the pantry, as Elvers wants to make sure as many people are available to attend it as possible.
“We want to have a grand-opening during the day time so as many faculty and staff can attend,” she said. “But we also want students to be there, so we may tie something in with a student activity event that is already happening in the Union to have a grand-opening for students in the nighttime.”
With the semester just getting underway, the days and hours of which the pantry will be open is still up in the air while Elvers seeks out student volunteers to work. She hopes to be open during the week during community hour, and adding in another day or two on the weekend.
Photo from Springfield Student