1/18/21 MLK Food Drive, Jesus Romero

Jesus Romero, a coordinator for leadership and development at the ACE Campus Food Pantry, shows the donations he had collected within the first 30 minutes of the food drive. 

Purdue students and staff have donated food, toiletries and other goods to ACE Campus Food Pantry this week during its weeklong food drive in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

ACE’s “Pantry Van” has been making its way around campus since Monday and will continue to roam the streets of Purdue until Friday evening.

The organization provides free produce, toiletries, foods and snacks to students, faculty and staff, according to its website. It has been entirely student-led since opening in 2015, and now hosts more than 2,000 client visits a year on average.

Food scarcity on campus

While the event is targeted toward students, younger people haven’t been the pantry’s only benefactors.

“A lot of the people that come aren’t actually students,” said volunteer Kayla Sylvester, a freshman in the College of Pharmacy. “I see a lot of adults coming in, too. Some of the clients also have kids, so ACE helps a lot of people in different places of life.”

Though many students have meal plans with the University, not all students have the same access to resources like food and toiletries.

“I think there’s a misconception that everyone on our campus has access to food,” said Brian Kocher, residence education coordinator. “That’s not the reality for all Purdue students.”

Melissa Gruver, associate director for civic engagement and leadership development, said that nationally more than half of students with meal plans are also food insecure. She said students shouldn’t have to worry about affording food during already uncertain times.

How did the food drive happen?

ACE coordinated this food drive with Purdue advisory committees, Purdue Student Government and University Residences, among other organizations, according to Purdue’s website. The pantry van has parked in front of on-campus locations to receive food from donors.

Five staff members drove the van to pick up donations, and around 20 student volunteers processed the donations over time.

“This is our first time attempting a campus-wide drive,” said Vanessa Pacheco, Purdue’s coordinator for civic engagement and leadership development and ACE Campus Food Pantry adviser. “That coincides really well with the five-year anniversary we have just celebrated in the fall.”

ACE also offers a garden program and teaches clients how to grow their own food. Gruver said that even though meeting the direct need of food is one of ACE’s commitments, building a community around food is something the group tries to highlight.

Nathan Rowland Miller, student director of ACE and senior in the College of Engineering, said food scarcity is a year-round issue.

“A food drive could be done at any point of the year and still gather resources that would be useful for the clients, no matter the season,” he said.

Miller added that one of ACE’s goals is to not only make resources available to address food insecurity at a surface level, but to educate and work to address the root causes of food insecurity.

“One of the other pantry directors (Riley Frye) said in a conversation we were having that, ‘You can’t achieve food justice without addressing racial inequities in our current system,’” Miller said. “That is why it ties into MLK Jr.’s messaging and why it is important to hold this food drive now.”

Miller said when he was in college he was fortunate enough to have a meal plan that supported him, but recognizes all the different changes students may face.

“That’s not always the case for college students,” Miller said. “Whether it be a financial issue, a time and accessibility issue, or other issues that people in our community may face.”

Ally Murray, a junior in the College of Engineering, said that after paying tens of thousands of dollars for tuition, no students should have to go hungry.

“Ensuring that you know where your next meal comes from helps with your academic success, your ability to form social connections, and it can really change someone’s experience,” Kocher said.

Each donor also received a small thank-you gift from ACE for their generosity.

Miller said he wants to make sure the Purdue community knows that this resource is available for them.

“I think the main point still remains to be a way to honor Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and bring attention to the inequities present, but this can be done while letting people on campus know that we exist and can help you,” Miller said. “No questions asked.”

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