At a time when much of the world has ground to a halt, hunger and food insecurity haven’t.
That’s why Penn State Wilkes-Barre has shifted to an online request system for the campus food bank, continuing to serve any campus students who might need it.
Just days after the University announced that courses would be delivered remotely, Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s Student Affairs Office developed a new way for students to request food that they can pick up at a designated time in a safe manner — without having any contact with staff.
“Students and their families right now are being faced with a lot of life upheaval and life issues regarding COVID-19. People have lost their jobs and it’s a time of uncertainty that students and their families haven’t seen before,” said Director of Student Services and Engagement Wanda Ochei. “It has served as a lifeline for some individuals and families and will continue to serve in that capacity. Going into this, maybe some students didn’t have food insecurity, but their lifestyle has changed and now they’re going to need us.”
The physical food bank is located in the Student Affairs offices in Hayfield House and stocks a variety of nonperishable items including soups, pastas, canned vegetables, canned fruit, breakfast items, rice, crackers, snacks and beverages. It also includes a small section of household items such as toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry detergent, paper towels, and utensils that may be needed by students who aren’t able to get to a store.
The bank is open to all students, without any personal information or income requirements. There are no limitations to how many times students can visit or how much food they can take.
To receive items from the bank, a student now can submit a request through the online form. Ochei and Sue Cunningham, administrative assistant in Student Services and Engagement, receive the request and pack the items the student has requested — usually including a few extra treats as well. The requestor receives an email when the order is ready, giving a timeframe and location for pickup.
“It was important to us to come up with new and improved ideas on how to maintain the food bank at this time,” Ochei said. “Our students are from hardworking families and we want to support them in these tough times. I think it matters to our students that we’re showing this level of care and concern for their well-being and for their families’ well-being.”
The bank is supplied by donations from faculty, staff and students, including numerous student clubs and organizations that want to support the food bank as a community service project.
The food bank was initially established in 2010 by the Students for Justice Club, and students have continued to assist through making donations, raising awareness, and stocking shelves.
“I like that this started as a student initiative,” Ochei said. “That shows a heightened sense of care and concern that students wanted to do this for their fellow students, helping and showing they are there for them. We have had several students who previously received food from the bank who brought in food later, when times were better for them, wanting to give back.”
In addition to nonperishable foods, the Office of Student Affairs partnered with the Commission on Economic Opportunity and Clancy Harrison, lecturer in nutrition, to bring a pop-up produce market to campus on two occasions.
“We can’t keep items that need refrigeration in the food bank, so this was a special opportunity for students,” Cunningham said. “We had four tables piled high with fresh produce that was all gone before the advertised ending time. The students loved it.”
While food donations are not being accepted during the pandemic, monetary donations to help supply the food bank can be made online or mailed to Penn State Wilkes‑Barre, Attn: Development Office, 44 University Drive, Dallas, PA 18612. (Checks should be made out to Penn State Wilkes‑Barre, with “Penn State Wilkes-Barre food bank donation” in the memo field.)
“We know that people want to help others at this time and show care and love for their fellow human beings,” Ochei said. “This is a way they can do that.”
“The food bank is a safety net for many of our students. We want to make sure we continue to provide that safety net and keep this important resource available at our campus,” she said.