Student Involvement and Leadership and the Community Involvement Center are teaming up to provide food for hungry students and their families this winter by opening the doors of the new Weber Cares Food Bank.
The food bank, located in the Diversity Center on the second floor of the Shepherd Union Building, is open weekdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., and is stocked with donated items like canned vegetables, cereals and boxed meals. Its goal is to provide these items to students who might be having financial trouble covering the basics on top of tuition, books and fees.
“There are students who are sitting in class hungry,” said Carla Jones, office specialist of the Community Involvement Center, who described the program as an expansion of the Weber Cares food services voucher program.
“We don’t want to perpetuate the problem,” Jones said. “The goal is to help them and direct them to other services that are available.”
The voucher program allows students to receive $10 to use in the union building’s food services area, but the entire amount must be used at one time or the balance is forfeited. Students must also have a referral to get the vouchers. Departments that support other needs, like Psychological Services and the Women’s Center, have referred students in the past.
The food bank, on the other hand, is available for anyone to use, and students are only asked to show a Wildcard in order to keep track of the number of people who are using the food bank to monitor the need.
In the two weeks that the bank has been open, volunteers have seen about five students a day, but they expect more as word gets out and advertising is set in place.
“People come in and are nervous, and you try to make them comfortable and show them around,” said Alexis Marquez, chair of the food pantry. “You get a piece of their background story, and it’s very motivating.”
Marquez said a larger space will also allow Weber Cares to help more students.
Mirra Valdez, the student volunteer coordinator for the food pantry, said she also enjoys her volunteer experience.
“We made some guy’s day by giving him two bags and telling him to ‘go nuts,’” Valdez said. “Two girls came in together and were so excited. They cleaned out all the mac and cheese.”
According to the Utah Food Bank, 1 out of every 10 Utahns lives in poverty and makes only about $22,000 a year to cover food, clothing, health care and shelter. About 400,000 Utahns risk missing one meal every day, and the state is ranked fourth-highest in the nation for very low food security.
Items that Marquez and the volunteers report students requesting are on-the-go breakfast items, including cereals, breakfast bars, oatmeal and Pop-Tarts. Other items typically needed are grains, shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, canned stews and chili, tuna fish, canned fruits and vegetables, boxed juices, crackers, dried fruits and pastas.
For more information, or to donate food items, students can contact the Community Involvement Center at 801-626-7737.