WOU food pantry continues to provide services despite COVID

Western’s Food Pantry remains open despite the year’s circumstances

Sydney Carpenter | News Editor

At Western, there have been university-wide layoffs, budget cuts and projected program reductions. The Board of Trustees have coined the term “right sizing” for the university. Due to COVID-19, the “adjustment” has been amplified.

Despite the financial circumstances the university is facing, the Western Food Pantry has remained available to community members.

Back in March, when COVID was first documented in Polk County, grocery stores in Monmouth and Independence were cleared of sanitization products, personal hygiene goods and produce. Dissimilarly, Western’s Food Pantry shelves were filled with products for the community.

According to senior applied math major and student coordinator of the Food Pantry Josh Salsbury, the Food Pantry’s “source” — Marion Polk Food Share — donated enough food to roll over into fall term after Oregon’s Joint Special Committee on Coronavirus passed their fourth policy proposal. This proposal was designed to fund food banks. 

At the time of the food bank donation, students had mostly vacated campus; however, Food Pantry services are not exclusive to students. The Pantry welcomes all who are in need regardless if they live in Polk County or aren’t associated with Western, Salsbury explained. 

After Oregon released its COVID safety guidelines, Salsbury reported that the Food Pantry hastily adapted its services to abide by Oregon law.

“It was a really difficult transition,” said Salsbury. “To illustrate that, during winter term of last year, the Food Pantry had 30 weekly volunteers keeping it open and helping with our services. Due to COVID guidelines and because we weren’t really sure what COVID was going to look like because of how scattered the information was, we went from having 30 volunteers to having maybe four or five.”

In addition to reduced volunteers, it took two attempts to establish an effective COVID-compatible food acquisition system.

“At the start of COVID, the system we had at the time was very rushed because we were trying to make sure we had a COVID-compliant system,” said Salsbury. “We had prearranged bags or food boxes. We had three different options of bags to still accommodate the choice.”

Salsbury explained that the Food Pantry didn’t like the first system because of the fewer options a customer had when they chose from prearranged bags.

Around the beginning of summer, the Food Pantry switched to their final and current system that Salsbury referred to as the “restaurant style” system. When customers currently go to the pantry, instead of the pre-COVID “grocery style” system, they order food off a menu and a worker packs the requested food, rather than allowing the customer to peruse the shelves. This ensures social distancing and limits the amount of people touching the food.

Despite these unusual circumstances, customers have reported the Pantry is maintaining quality service during this time.

“The transition from normal to COVID was pretty smooth,” said community member Shannon Howard. “They did a really good job; I was impressed. They stayed open when I thought they would close.”

Howard reported that although the Food Pantry is receiving only 50% of its funding and reducing staff, he still has access to all the food he needs.

“(It’s a) real big help for me, especially the fresh milk, eggs and cheese,” said Howard.

Howard also commented that prior to COVID, the pantry was actually prepared, citing that the pantry provided sanitizer.

Going forward, the Food Pantry hopes to continue to provide for their community and destigmatize using the pantry. For information on Food Pantry hours and how you can donate, visit https://wou.edu/foodpantry/.

Contact the author at scarpenter18@mail.wou.edu


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