New position created to work with local partners; 157 lunch boxes distributed over the winter break
The Cougar Food Pantry thrives in its Compton Union Building location, nearly a year ago, when students set up a $ 5 fee to support the pantry.
The Cougar Food Pantry is led by Shae McCarron, majoring in anthropology and human biology and AmeriCorps Cougar Food Pantry Director.
WSU alumni Cristalina Ramirez said she works in the pantry along with three other assistants.
The four assistants are employees of the university and receive health care and other benefits, McCarron said.
The Food Chamber is supported by its local partnerships, including a coalition of the 12 different food banks and food pantries in Whitman County, they said.
The pantry has recently hired someone to work with local partners, such as the Council on Aging and Human Services at Colfax, the Moscow Food Co-Op and the Moscow-based Backyard Harvest. This new employee will help strengthen existing partnerships and seek out new ones, McCarron said.
Another of the pantry’s partners is WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm who designated several hydroponic tables specifically to provide fresh salad to the pantry, Ramirez said.
An advisory committee consisting of four undergraduate students, two graduate students and several faculty members manages the pantry budget, McCarron said. They facilitate board meetings.
“We make sure that the students are okay with it [any food pantry-related financial decisions] by passing it on to students, ”McCarron said.
The pantry handed out 157 boxes of groceries to students during the winter break, giving about two to three meals a day of groceries for 10 days, they said.
ASWSU Senators Jelani Christopher and Nife Shola-Dare sponsored the legislation to create the tuition fee that supports the pantry, said Sean Doster, 2020-21 ASWSU vice president and fall 2021 candidate.
Senators Christopher and Shola-Dare introduced the measure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, Doster said.
Prior to the fee, the pantry was maintained by the Office of Access and Opportunities, the Women *s Center, the Center for Civic Engagement and the Office of the Dean of Students. Whitman County food banks and other individuals supported the pantry with donations, according to the ASWSU poll.
Student voters approved the five-dollar fee by a 70% majority, according to a WSU Insider Article.
“It does not happen that often once you have passed a tuition fee initiative and next year it is already ready to go,” Doster said. “If you want to boil it down, it was Cougs who helped Cougs.”
McCarron said they would have to choose between putting food on their desk or continuing in school and having to drop out in 2013. They decided to go back to school during the pandemic and now attend and work at WSU.
“Having [a food pantry] as a resource is just monumental to my success and I also hope that every other student’s success, ”McCarron said.
McCarron met with Western Washington University on Monday to talk about WSU’s success while WWU explores creating their own university pantry.
“I want all universities to do this,” McCarron said. “I want to see Harvard provide free food to their students. Those kids work hard. We deserve what you know.”
McCarron said their vision for the pantry is to make it a staple of WSU.
“To make it important in the minds and eyes of students and faculty on campus,” they said.
McCarron said many students are not aware of the pantry.
The pantry is located in a room in the CUB that used to be a market, and occasionally students will come in and think it is still the market, Ramirez said.
“It’s one of those charges that certainly everyone is happy about,” Ramirez said. “No one enters [to the food pantry] angry that the market is no longer there. They say, ‘oh, this is a little better than the market.’
The pantry serves anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 individual students each month, Ramirez said.
A larger budget also means the food chamber is able to support students with different needs, including buying more culturally specific food, Ramirez said.
McCarron worked with the Week of Welcome students’ orientation team to ensure new students were aware of the pantry.
“Do not be afraid to use it,” McCarron said. “It doesn’t matter if you have the money or not, sometimes you just need a rice crispy that doesn’t cost four dollars.”