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HNU’s Food Pantry: Rethinking how we help students succeed

Food insecurity on college campuses is a nationwide problem. The Hope Center found that 34% of college students experienced regular food insecurity, and research shows that reliable food access is directly linked to academic success. To help Holy Names’ students health, wellness, and academic growth, HNU operates a food pantry on campus.

Launched in 2017, the HNU Food Pantry provides students free access to a range of food options from instant meals to staple foods to quick snacks. Initially, food items were discreetly delivered directly to students in need. Chris Chu, assistant director of student affairs and coordinator of student success and retention, recalls that “this helped us understand the important needs that the HNU Food Pantry was fulfilling, but it became clear that delivering food packs was logistically difficult both for staff and students.” To improve upon this process, the system was modified and Brennan Hall became the permanent location for food pantry items.

“During the pandemic, the main food pantry was left unlocked to maximize access to the pantry, and additional satellite pantries have been added in the Residence Halls near Dunn and Durocher Hall,” said Chu.

The HNU Food Pantry was formerly stocked solely by donations from HNU community members. In 2020, thanks to a faculty member’s connections, the HNU Food Pantry secured a partnership with the Oakland Catholic Worker and the Alameda County Food Bank to ensure a constant supply of food for students.

Eleanor McFarlin, associate dean and director of student success, notes that additionally, “HNU has an affiliation with the ‘Yes We Must Coalition,’ and through this organization we’ve been able to have in-person conversations about supporting students’ basic needs with other same-serving schools. These conversations have helped us to better understand how our Food Pantry offerings compare with other universities, and to gain more information and better techniques for what might work best for HNU students.”

Chu explained how, similar to The Student Emergency Life Fund (SELF) Grant and the HNU Clothing Closet, the HNU Food Pantry is a significant resource on campus that helps to bridge the gap between basic needs insecurities and HNU students.

“Going forward, the goal is to continue to provide the food support needed for students, and to tailor the offerings of the food pantry to what students are asking for—both with the items they are picking out and the direct requests they are submitting,” said Chu. “There is a fine line we are balancing between providing healthy and nutritious options in the food pantry, while recognizing the taste of the students who are utilizing the pantry.”

Even though food insecurity is common among college students, shame and stigma may prevent students from accessing the HNU Food Pantry. “For students who are trying to rationalize that their basic needs insecurity is somehow less important, and would rather leave resources available for others who are more needy, please understand that while that sentiment is admirable and noble, your insecurity should not be measured against others,” said Chu. “You need to take care of yourself first before you can help others.”

Chu emphasizes, “The HNU Food Pantry and other HNU Basic Needs Services are here to help students with the insecurities and problems they present. We are not here to judge students’ worthiness of these services or chastise them for seeking help. If students reach out a hand for help, we will grasp it and help in whatever way we can.”

To donate to HNU’s Student Needs programs, you can Make a Gift (select Student Emergency Life Fund).