Sarah’s Cupboard addresses food security issues on campus
by Rev. Derek Wadlington and Rebecca Galvin ’23
Sarah’s Cupboard is the College’s “pantry” —a place where any member of the Wilson community with a valid ID can pick up food and other necessities for free. It was created with grant money and donations from the Alumni Association of Wilson College (AAWC) and is overseen by the Office of the Chaplain.
The Cupboard opened its door at the start of the fall 2016 semester to address food security issues on campus and provide aid to those who need it in a friendly, personal, and yet stigma-free way. Over its six years, the Cupboard has been visited almost 1,000 times. Usage grew steadily until the hit of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. The pandemic and the absence of students on campus forced us to reach out in different ways, including connecting clients directly with produce from Fulton Farm.
Why does Wilson need Sarah’s Cupboard as a resource? Over 98% of Wilson students receive some level of financial aid. Many students, particularly our commuter students, work full- or part-time as they complete their education. Some of these students have to make tough decisions about spending their money. For some, the choice may be putting gas in their car, paying bills, or eating. As students are investing in their education, we at Wilson are investing in students. A student who does not have to worry about where their next meal may be coming from is better able to focus on classwork and homework and will have a higher success rate.
Originally, we distributed only shelf-stable food items ranging from small snacks like chips and granola bars to pasta and sauce to peanut butter and jelly. Later, we obtained a refrigerator and freezer and added fresh items like milk and eggs to our inventory. In recent years, we added hygiene items ranging from soap, shampoos, and deodorant to laundry pods to period products, thanks to the feedback we got from clients and student need.
When the campus reopened to students, for a multitude of pandemic-related economic reasons, we had a surge of participants seeking access to food. We focused on making the process as easy and stigma-free as possible. To this end, we created Sarah’s Cupboard Identification Cards. These IDs do not contain a user’s personal information but allow us to track usage data anonymously.
“As a college student myself, I am aware of the financial and logistical struggles that college students face. Many have never been away from home for an extended period before and don’t know the importance of getting good food for cheap to keep them full and able to learn at their highest capacity,” said Rebecca Galvin ’23, a co-author of this article and the student manager of the Cupboard this year. “Making the Cupboard as friendly and welcoming as possible is something that I take very seriously. I plan more outreach to all who need support, whether small or large. An important population of students that I hope to reach are those who may not consider themselves food insecure but are always looking for a snack or a small meal (maybe late at night) to keep them going.”
We hope to make the Cupboard a resource comparable to the Academic Success Center or the Counseling Center in terms of the number of students that use it. Over the last semester, Galvin led the project to organize all of the data accumulated over the previous six years. We were amazed to see that even with the lowering of numbers through COVID, the Cupboard had still been used over 800 times. That number inspired us to attempt to create a space where, hopefully, that number will exponentially increase in the next six years. And recently, we have collaborated with Sage Dining, the campus catering vendor, to provide food boxes to students who must stay on campus during long breaks when dining services are closed.
Last fall Wilson applied for and received the PA Hunger-Free Campus+ designation. This is a new program that then-First Lady of Pennsylvania Frances Wolf sponsored. Food security issues in education are a big passion for Mrs. Wolf. Last year saw a push to include $1 million in the PA state budget for food security issues on college and university campuses. As part of that, the PA Hunger-Free Campus+ designation was created to recognize campuses that are doing a variety of things to combat food security issues and awareness in stigma-free environments (like Sarah’s Cupboard has been doing!). Once we received that designation, we were invited to apply for a grant through this initiative, which we also received. The grant will allow us to raise awareness of food security issues further and expand our services, connect more students with available services in the community, and partner with local agencies to support their efforts in these areas.
The AAWC has continued to support Sarah’s Cupboard through donations and funds.
Through regular donations from both the association and individuals, and by responding to emergency requests for specific needs, the Wilson community has been a tremendous asset to the Cupboard and helped it succeed in its mission.