Currently, about 9,000 students a year walk through the doors of the Student Food Pantry. They are greeted by a welcoming student to pick up their free produce, bread, canned goods, frozen meats, milk, eggs, cheese, hummus, coffee, pastas, tofu, peanut butter, cake mix, cooking oil, almost anything one can think of. The pantry currently serves students from multiple schools, and no student will ever get denied access to this food.
Continuously through remote classes, COVID spikes, and inclement weather, the pantry has survived almost entirely by the work of volunteers and student-workers.
The Pantry started out in a small garage in 2011, and over the years has since grown through the work of students and community members and moved into a multi-room space in June of 2020. In the past year, the pantry now has been stocked with reusable water bottles, toilet paper, toothbrushes, soaps, dog and cat food, menstrual products, safer sex supplies, handmade knit hats , and more halal, kosher, vegan, and gluten free groceries. Students have been working on getting more basics, culturally competent foods, and other essentials that the university currently doesn’t provide such as fentanyl testing strips and pregnancy tests.
Historically, the pantry has been funded, operated, and expanded by the work of community members and students at UO. This is now changing. As of July 1st 2022, along with other department changes happening this summer, the administrative department of the Dean of Students will began managing the pantry. This means that the pantry will no longer be run by students and community members.
It is not entirely clear what has all played a role in the transition of the oversight of the food pantry to Admin. One theory is the change in EMU oversight. As of July 1st 2022, Admin now will instead be overseeing the funding of many of the offices in the EMU such as the Student Sustainability Center, Craft Center, KVWA, Outdoor Program and many others. The Food Pantry was ran in partnership of the Student Sustainability Center.
Another contributing factor to the transition could include a new bill (HB 2825) passed in the Oregon legislature in 2021 which requires public universities in Oregon to hire professional staff to help students receive food benefits and implement basic need initiatives on campus. These staff are being placed in the Dean of Students office. Additionally on campus, this past year ASUO has directed funding towards basic needs programs housed in the Dean of Students office, this funding along with the state funding will be used to support the staff and services for students but it is still not transparent what this means for the access to the pantry.
As always, Admin has been able to take control of student-created and ran programs such as Safe Ride being turned into Duck Rides. This transition for the pantry to a program under Admin presents a scary scenario where more regulations, requirements, and bureaucracy are added onto the pantry. This stifles further community developed mutual aid currently happening at the pantry, and most certainly will prevent the pantry from becoming a more radical place to serve the needs of students. Helping meet the needs of students, and any vulnerable population, necessitates a dynamic, flexible, and understanding environment. Institutionalizing community programs often creates the opposite effect. This transition of the pantry is small, but it’s a warning sign for students to keep a watchful eye for possible more advances from Admin on student and community ran programs as the university administration now controls the departments from the EMU.