Campus Pantry’s Clientele Nearly Triples in Size Amid Pandemic
Donations Sought as Economic Fallout of COVID-19 Contributes to Food Insecurity
The Campus Pantry, founded to fight food insecurity in the University of Maryland community, has a new battle on its hands in the coronavirus age.
The number of people served last week almost tripled—from serving about 70 people in normal times to over 200. Now it’s seeking help to keep its shelves stocked and nutritious food going out the door to those negotiating a new economic landscape of slashed hours, lost jobs and months of uncertainty ahead.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in use of the pantry over the past couple of weeks; at this point we are out of food and waiting for restocking at the end of each day we’re open,” said Allison Tjaden, assistant director of new initiatives for Dining Services.
Although the university has committed to paying staff and faculty who can’t telework or physically work on campus—which is mostly shuttered with operations moved online to prevent the virus’s transmission—family members’ employment and second jobs have been affected, she said. That’s helped lead to a shift in demographics of pantry users, from mostly students to mostly staff.
The pantry’s operations have evolved as well. With students no longer on campus to work or volunteer, Dining Services staff members from around campus are taking up the slack, Tjaden said.
Distribution has shifted as well, emphasizing social distancing and sanitized surfaces to decrease risk from the novel coronavirus. Instead of customers browsing the small shop-like pantry on the ground floor of the University Health Center, employees assemble prepacked bags of groceries at Dining Services’ South Campus warehouse.
Bags are taken from a refrigerated truck parked near the door that leads to the Campus Pantry, with Tuesday hours added to the normal Friday distribution. (If clients can’t stop by during regular hours, or to further protect privacy, individual appointments can be arranged by contacting the pantry, Tjaden said.)
The rapid ramping down of operations on the campus, and closure of residence halls and dining facilities, had one silver lining, Tjaden said. “We had a lot of fresh produce and other fresh items that were not going to be used in the dining halls,” she said. “We’re such a big operation in Dining Services that normally, there’s always somewhere we can use those heads of lettuce, or eggs or melons. But we’ve been able to pack up all those things and distribute to people coming to the pantry for the last couple of weeks.”