The Mills Pantry is a resource for students who are dealing with food insecurity. It officially opened its doors last semester, a month before the Class of 2019’s senior graduation, but had been in the works long before. During the year, the senior class held a donation campaign to support the pantry and designated the project as their class gift.
“Before the pantry was open, we had a series of pop-up events just to kind of gauge interest…We did three or four of them throughout Spring 2019,” Judi Pierce, Manager of Wellness and Community Outreach, said.
In 2016, alumna Toni Gomez wrote her public policy graduate thesis about the impact of food insecurity at Mills and discovered that over 40% of students were struggling.
Around this time, many food pantries were opening nationwide and many students were reaching out to the Division of Student Life about their needs for more food.
Gomez had two recommendations on how to help students who needed assistance meeting basic food needs: the first was to get more students on Calfresh—also known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—a program that offers monthly benefits to those who are low-income, and the second was to establish the food pantry.
“While she found that many students needed food support and food help, her number one recommendation was not from the pantry. The pantry requires a lot of involvement, engagement, and money. Her number one recommendation was to have a more streamlined approach to getting students on Calfresh,” Pierce said.
Mills was then connected with the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) and a system was created to pre-qualify students for Calfresh benefits by presenting their financial aid award letter for work-study.
The Mills Pantry relies on the varieties of food at the ACCFB and sometimes faces challenges when students are unsure of what to expect. During open hours, about 13-15 students come to take food.
Students can find shelf-stable foods and items that can be heated and later refrigerated. The pantry supplies things like soy milk, cow’s milk, peanut butter, canned beans, spaghetti, oatmeal, bread and rice. In the past couple of weeks, there has been a produce section including apples, plums and carrots.
“The pantry is one of the nicest places on campus because students are really sweet and they are very kind in that space and…the people that volunteer are also really excited to work with students in a way that just helps them directly,” Pierce said.
When the Divison of Student Life took over the project of the pantry, they wanted to be sure to follow the recommendations of Gomez and meet the needs of students as best as possible.
To have more open hours, the pantry needs volunteers. Students may be able to fulfill their Community Engaged Learning requirement through volunteering at least two hours of their time. Those who are interested should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the future, the pantry plans to hold more pop-up events to get students’ attention. Located in CPM 103, the Mills Pantry hours are Tuesdays from 12-3 p.m., Wednesdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., and Thursdays from 2-5 p.m.