Instead of going home after work on Tuesday night, Vanessa Pacheco, coordinator for civic engagement, drove to the Baptist Student Foundation to check on a fresh crop of tomatoes instead.
The basement of the Baptist Student Foundation (the Found) is home to the ACE Campus Food Pantry, which aims to combat the stigma around food insecurity and provide food, cleaning supplies and toiletries to Purdue students, faculty and staff. Pacheco, advisor for the pantry, stayed there past 9 p.m. on Tuesday to keep tabs on the ripeness of the produce.
“We can’t refrigerate them,” Pacheco explained in a phone interview. “The sugars in them break down and really alter the flavor of the tomatoes. We have to hit that sweet spot.”
The tomatoes, like most of the pantry, are a collaborative effort. According to Pacheco, they were provided by Purdue Student Farm.
“They get to support us and we get to support their endeavors,” she said.
This is a common theme with the food pantry, which is open from 2-6 p.m. on Tuesdays and 6-8 p.m. on Sundays. According to Pacheco, students studying agronomy and agriculture often volunteer with the pantry as a means of applying their passion for food security to help support clients on campus.
“We help students have self-awareness and help them use their talents to solve life’s big problems,” she said. “I’m there with them when they fail and I’m there with them when they succeed.”
The collaborative spirit of the pantry can be found in its relationship with other clubs and organizations. In the past, it has hosted cooking demonstrations, including one by professor Atsushi Fukada of the Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center, at which participants learned to make okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake, out of ingredients available at the pantry.
According to Jillian Sunnygard, Food and Nutrition in Business student and current director of the ACE Campus Food Pantry, the pantry directors also host special holiday potlucks at the Found.
Last Halloween, a student in the College of Science named Alex attended the “Spooky Potluck.” He said that most of the food was really good.
“There were some cute cupcakes with bats on them,” he said. “And there were some sandwiches cut into the shape of bats.”
He commented that the sandwiches were topped with a fake cheese topping that didn’t taste good, but that was his only complaint.
On Tuesday, Alex got “a little bit of everything” at the pantry.
“Some snacks, some drinks, some canned chicken,” he said.
When open on Tuesdays and Sundays, the pantry’s three shelving units offer a variety of food, including rice, noodles, canned vegetables, soups, snacks and desserts. The pantry also provides some personal supplies, such as laundry detergent, deodorant, feminine products and other toiletries.
According to Sunnygard, only a Purdue ID is needed to access the pantry. Food is provided using a point system; each item is worth a predetermined number of points (for example, two bagged snacks count as one point) that pantry clients can use. Clients can choose up to fifteen points worth of food each day they visit.
Sunnygard said most of the products are purchased from Food Finders Food Bank, but some are donated, either on an individual basis or by groups like Purdue Townie Moms.
She smiled as she bound tea bags together and placed them in a box (three tea bags count for one point). She helped advertise for the pantry at the B-Involved Fair on Saturday.
“I’ve always been passionate about food insecurity, ever since I was little,” she said. She encouraged anyone else who shares her passion to email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask about volunteer work.
“We have different opportunities come up depending on the time,” she said. “We always need volunteers to staff the pantry on Sundays and Tuesdays.”
Approximately 20 to 30 people come into the pantry on days it's open, but Sunnygard wishes more would come in.
“I think there’s a lot of people on campus who could use the service and are embarrassed about it or don’t know it’s here,” she said.
For those who might not be able to make it to the Found during its regular hours, there are other options on campus. A pop-up food pantry affiliated with Ace Campus Food Pantry is available weekly from 10 a.m. Friday through 10 a.m. Monday at the Córdova Recreational Sports Center during normal Co-Rec hours.
It is located on the main floor in a hallway by the Boilermaker Room and consists of tables and a refrigerator full of both packaged and fresh foods for students, faculty and staff. According to Carmen Williams, the administrative assistant for the pop-up pantry, no ID is required to access the food and no point system is used.
The pop-up pantry is unobtrusively positioned within the Co-Rec to give its clients privacy.
“It’s not there for everyone to see, but it’s there for everyone to use,” Williams said. “People have even been bringing fresh food out of their gardens for it.”
Even when the pop-up pantry is closed, Williams seeks to provide food to anyone on campus who needs it.
“People can email me and can come to the Wellness Suite and I can arrange for them to get food,” she said.
Another pop-up pantry, located inside Horizons in Krach Leadership Center, is open 24/7, according to Pacheco.
“One thing our program tries to address is the stigma around hunger,” Pacheco said. “We hear people say ‘I’m hungry but I don’t need the pantry.’ We’re a no-questions-asked space. It takes a lot of courage to ask for support and the students and I are proud to offer that kind of support.”