UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn Staters across the Commonwealth are embodying the “We Are” spirit by stepping up to keep campus food pantries open and to donate to local food banks as the coronavirus pandemic affects individuals throughout Pennsylvania and beyond.
To support students experiencing food insecurity, food pantries at Penn State’s campuses are striving to keep shelves stocked, offering pick-ups and adjusting their operations to maintain a safe environment for pantry staff, volunteers and students.
Thanks to the dedication of staff members like Ashley Schools, a financial coordinator in the Office of Student Life, the WE cARE Food Pantry at Penn State Harrisburg is offering online orders and continuing to prepare bags in a clean environment for volunteers and clients.
“Ashley has been a driving force with the WE cARE Food Pantry and has gone above and beyond the call of duty. She truly represents the values of Penn State and shares them with every student and member of the community,” said Andrea Mull, associate director of Student Health Services. “We have students in need, and if we are able to stay open and support our students in every way possible, we will.”
Police at Penn State Hazleton also took up the call. When Student Health Services Campus Nurse Jennifer Laregina requested support, police volunteered to temporarily host the campus’ food pantry at their police station, where officers are on site around the clock.
To support social distancing practices, Sergeant Jim Joos and Officer Liam Martin have distributed food to students at their homes over the past couple weeks. The officers also shared items with Penn State Schuylkill police to support their community.
“During this unprecedented crisis for our country, anything that I or my fellow officers can do to help serve the public and our students is gratifying,” said Sgt. Joos. “Thanks to some out-of-the-box thinking, students who need these resources are still able to obtain them by calling our station.”
The Lion’s Pantry at Penn State Behrend also is operating at a new normal.
“Our campus has been extremely supportive in enabling us to fulfill our mission of reducing food insecurity for our students,” said Hannah Moran, coordinator for Civic and Community Engagement. “From day one, faculty, staff and students have generously reached out to offer monetary and item donations.”
Having an online order form and anonymous pick-up system already in place has helped the pantry limit contact with students and keep the pantry sanitized — and staff members, like Jan Haring, an administrative assistant in Civic and Community Engagement, also have helped to keep the pantry running.
“Jan was, as she always is, immediately on top of everything and got us rallied right away,” said Moran. “She was cleaning, sanitizing and updating our website to make sure students knew they could still access the resource safely. She individually packaged our feminine hygiene products and put together kits for the residence halls. She's amazing and we would be stressed to the gills without her.”
Through open hours and a pre-bagged food program, the Lion’s Pantry at University Park is serving about 30 students weekly, with capacity to serve more.
“We are so grateful for the faculty and staff that have been volunteering in the pantry to make it possible to hold open hours, as well as all the donors who have kept our shelves stocked,” said Sarah Hohman, Penn State student and Lion’s Pantry communications coordinator.
At the pantry, former student-turned researcher Ann White, a research assistant in the Center for Health Aging at Penn State, has stepped up during the crisis, according to Hohman.
“Ann has certainly gone above and beyond in serving the community,” she said. “Since graduating and accepting a research position with the University, Ann has continued to support and advise the pantry throughout the year. But in this time, she has stepped up without being asked to coordinate efforts and make open hours possible. We are extremely grateful for Ann and her continued dedication.”
For White, she sees it as part of her responsibility as an alumna to take care of the Penn State community.
“I feel grateful to be in a position where I have the opportunity to work together with the Lion’s Pantry team, and other volunteers, to assist during this time of significant and difficult change for many,” said White. “It is important for me to help our clients, many of whom are currently facing extra challenges, so they don’t also have to worry about where their meals will be coming from. I am honored to contribute and to be part of something greater than any of us individually.”
'We Are' stories
The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories.
Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by the novel coronavirus. We are!