Koala Pantry combats hunger

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Koala Pantry combats hunger

Non-perishable food items line the shelves of the Koala Pantry.

Non-perishable food items line the shelves of the Koala Pantry.

Melvonia Taylor

Non-perishable food items line the shelves of the Koala Pantry.

Melvonia Taylor

Melvonia Taylor

Non-perishable food items line the shelves of the Koala Pantry.

Melvonia Taylor, editor

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The Koala Pantry, located in Harrelson 205, is an intimate room where everyday necessities can be obtained, stories unfold and the image of need is changed.

The Koala Pantry started off as a small pantry with bottles of water, crackers and chips. Soon after, healthier food items and feminine hygiene products were brought in. “Eventually, we noticed there was a need for other things,” Melissa Brannen, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Community Resources, said. “We got requests for soap, shampoo, toilet paper and paper towels. And, it just kind of snowballed from there.”

“We noticed that there were several people on campus who couldn’t afford a meal plan, and they didn’t have anything to bring to campus,” Brannen said. “And, that affects your studies too. If you’re hungry, you can’t sit in a classroom and pay attention, so our director of OMACR put together a proposal for the Koala Pantry with the help of students and a social work graduate student.”

The approval for the pantry was received from the campus advancement office. The Koala Pantry was founded Jan. 30, 2015 by Wendy Ferguson, former director of OMACR, and a graduate assistant in the social work program.

The updated Koala Pantry opened November 2016. It’s hours of operation are Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Since Sept. 24, the Koala Pantry is now open Saturdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. with the help of a volunteer.

The Koala Pantry is now overseen by Allison Maldonado-Ruiz, graduate assistant for the Office of Student Affairs, and Brannen.

In order to access the Koala Pantry, one must sign-in and state whether or not she has a one-time need or a longer-term need. Those with greater needs will be connected with community resources, according to Brannen. “I’m able to sit down with them and talk to them about financial planning or help them find an off-campus or on-campus job,” she said.

“Also, for those really big needs, we have some who work with Harvest Hope. They partner with us,” Brannen said. “All you have to do is show your CC ID for their emergency food pantry,” she said. This is for those who have a need to feed their family, and Harvest Hope will supply them with enough food for a week or month.

The Koala Pantry is open to students, faculty, staff and alumni. It’s also open to the public, if the person explains that the need is an emergency. It has items for those with dietary restrictions as well, in order to be fully accessible to those who seek help.

“There is conversation about getting mini-pantries across different areas of campus, so that we can keep it accessible to other people who may not be able to come up here or make it across campus,” Ruiz said.

“We want to get rid of the intimidation factor of having to ask for help because sometimes it’s just a one-time need,” Brannen said. “We don’t ever want a student to be intimidated to the point where they’re going to go to bed hungry, so we have talked with Residence Life, and several of our area coordinators are willing to host mini food pantries.”

Brannen was homeless at a young age, when her mother and father separated. They would live with different friends and family members until they found a place to live, according to Brannen. “We always had what we needed because people were so kind and generous and gave,” she said. She knows what it feels like to have a need and wants others to know there is no shame in getting assistance. “You never know when you’re going to be the person who needs help too.”

With the help of  Carol Moore, Ph.D., Columbia College interim president, Ruiz and Brannen have been able to put together a pantry adoption system. They send a list of items needed in the pantry, and the department that is adopting the pantry that particular month tries to supply what is needed. For the month of September, the division of Communication, Language and Literature sponsored, according to Ruiz.

In Fall 2016, there was a collection drive for the Koala Pantry, and Columbia College’s dining and facility services, Sodexo, won by donating 215 pounds of items, according to Ruiz. This made Ruiz realize how much people on campus care and how the Sodexo employees feel like they’re a part of the campus, even though they are not employees of the college.

A report from March 2017 from the Wisconsin HOPE Lab “looks at 33,000 students across 70 community colleges in 24 U.S. states. Of these students, around two-thirds are ‘food insecure,’” according to an article by Aria Bendix, a reporter for The Atlantic.

The Koala Pantry is in need of the following non-perishable items:

  • Rice
  • Snack Items (chips, applesauce, crackers)
  • Cereal
  • Toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Menstrual Pads
  • Tampons
  • Shampoo
  • Fresh Produce
  • Bread
  • Milk
  • Microwavable Bowls/Plates

If you would like to donate or volunteer, contact Allison Maldonado-Ruiz or Melissa Brannen. The Pantry does not accept cash or check donations. Donations can be taken to Ruiz’s office, Harrelson 204.

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