Volume 44 | Number 1 | Spring 2014

Benny's Pantry Fulfills Need in Campus Community

Spring 2014 Issue

Each story heard at Benny's Pantry is unique.

One student said the food assistance she received from the campus pantry was like Christmas. Another was thrilled that he would now be able to afford gas. One student's story was particularly touching for Brooke Barber, director of the LEAD center, which coordinates the pantry.

"She said it would be her first birthday with a full stomach in a long time," Barber said.

The brainchild of First Lady Dr. Laura Vailas, a registered dietitian/nutritionist, Benny's Pantry is a food pantry designed to offer short-term help for members of the ISU community who are suffering from food insecurity.

Brooke Barber and Dr. Laura Vailas cut the ribbon to officially open Benny's Pantry.

Since the pantry's grand opening in January, Barber says, dozens have used the service, and student groups, faculty, staff and local businesses have stepped up to make sure the pantry is full.

"We have been overwhelmed by the stories already," she said. "It was proof of the need."

Poverty among college students is often a hidden problem. According to the U.S. Census, 15.2 percent of the nation lives in poverty, but among college students living off campus and not with relatives, the rate jumps to 51.8 percent. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 29 percent of students have incomes below $20,000 per year, even though 79 percent of students work full or part-time. About 35 percent are parents.

For many students, poverty is a temporary problem as they take classes to gain better employment opportunities. The stress of searching for ways to feed a family can take its toll, however, and Vailas knows that good nutrition is vital for a good learning environment.

"Malnutrition affects the ability to learn," Vailas said. "The University is a place for education. We don't want hunger to get in the way of that."

Vailas said she worries about students, especially those with children, who are struggling to make ends meet while studying to create a better life for their families.

"I know very well that parents will forego meals so their children can eat," Vailas said.

Short-term economic insecurity shouldn't be a reason for students to end their education early, she says, and the ISU community wants to make sure our students don't have to make that choice.

At Benny's Pantry, students, staff and faculty can receive assistance twice a month. No income records are kept — clients are allowed to shop with the simple swipe of their Bengal cards. On the shelves are canned fruits and vegetables, nutritious boxed food and parenting necessities such as diapers, baby food and formula. The pantry also offers can openers, toiletries and other essentials.

Every effort is made to make sure that food items are nutritious, Vailas said. Dietetics students are among the volunteers who staff and manage the pantry, she said, and the pantry will continue to be a source for class projects in the future.

Vailas said the program is designed to provide a short-term solution, which is often all students need.

"It's not a permanent solution. It's a stop-gap measure," she said.

When Vailas mentioned the idea of a food pantry to Dr. Pat Terrell, vice president for student affairs, in the fall, ISU employees immediately began to work on a plan.

"It came together very quickly because people understand the need," she said.

Vailas said she is proud of how students, faculty, staff and local businesses have come together to help make the pantry a reality. Idaho State University Credit Union and Chartwells have made large donations, and student groups have sponsored food and toiletry drives to help fill the need.

"I've always been very impressed with the campus community here at ISU," Vailas said. "They see a need and they step up to help."

Financial contributions can be made on campus or online at isu.edu/foundation and designating the funds for the pantry.