Food Pantry offers volunteer opportunities, increases safety protocols

When Southeastern’s campus closed last spring, the Food Pantry in McGehee Hall Room 109 went with it, shifting the food distribution responsibilities from Multicultural and International Student Affairs to the Southeastern Wesley Foundation.

The pantry has been up and running on campus again for the 2020-2021 academic year with increased health and safety protocols as well as volunteer opportunities for students. Most of its overall operations fall under the Wesley’s direction, but the facility’s general oversight is now in partnership between the Wesley and MISA.

According to Director of Programs Melissa Guerra, the Wesley stayed open throughout the pandemic to serve free meals as well as distribute Food Pantry supplies to those in need.

She said, “We had the pantry come into our building, which was just grab-and-go little bags that were prepackaged that people could come and get. Now that it’s back open, we are back more like a grocery store. Students can come in and shop and get their 20 items a week.”

On Mondays and Wednesdays, the pantry is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, it is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Students, faculty and staff can schedule appointments on Fridays and outside of regular hours.

“If anybody needs to come in at an odd time, even on the weekend, you can go on the website and schedule an appointment. Somebody can meet you there and walk through everything with you,” said the Rev. Sam Hubbard, organizational pastor for the Wesley.

Guerra said the Food Pantry currently has six student volunteers and is always looking for more.

“They restock shelves. They check students in through our check-in system that we have and keep it clean and organized. They help students if they need to know where things are and if we have things that aren’t out,” Guerra said.

Guerra noted some specific items that are frequently in surplus and in demand at the pantry.

She said, “Too much is canned vegetables like corn, green beans, green peas, that kind of thing. Things that we are always in need of are cereal, canned tuna, canned chicken, anything that’s easy to prep/microwaveable.” 

However, just as the pantry is always looking for volunteers, any and all donations are accepted.

MISA Coordinator Mattie Hawkins said, “With the pantry being used as a resource for students on the campus, we have to always replenish items because they go fast. We can always use additional donations.”

Junior English education major Conner Liuzza said he started volunteering at the Food Pantry around September 2020. This semester, he has been working Monday and Wednesday afternoons. 

In addition to masks and hand sanitizer, Liuzza described the precautions the pantry utilizes to maximize cleanliness and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

He said, “We try to limit the amount of hands that the food we put out touches, so it’s only ever between me, Melissa or another one of our volunteers plus whoever donates the food.”

According to Hawkins, an average of 125 students a month visit the pantry to check out items, which is an increase since prior to the pandemic. 

Guerra said, “I would say that it has increased traffic because I think a lot of students ended up being out of work, and so they had more of a need for the pantry than previously.”

Liuzza said his time as a volunteer has been an evolving and eye-opening learning experience because he gets to interact with a diverse group of students every week.

“I enjoy helping people and getting to talk to a bunch of students I normally wouldn’t have talked to, like a lot of the international students that I don’t see in my normal classes,” Liuzza said.

Anyone can drop off donations at the Food Pantry, the Wesley or MISA’s office as well as make monetary donations here. Interested volunteers can reach out to the Wesley Foundation: questions@sluwesley.org.

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