“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” –James Beard
When people hear the term “food insecurity,” the first vulnerable group that comes to mind is not college students. But too often, after the expenses that come with a college education, students struggle to find affordable meals. At Penn State Altoona, that need is being addressed by Ivyside Eats, a campus food pantry where students can get free food and toiletries.
According to Sue Patterson, director of Student Diversity and Inclusion Programming, the biggest priority for the pantry is not donations—it’s “getting the word out.” Too many students are not aware of the pantry, or may not know where the pantry is located (it’s in the chapel). Worse yet, students in need may feel embarrassed about needing help. But college is expensive, unexpected expenses pop up, or maybe a planned budget turned out to be unrealistic.
The pantry, which started as an idea by Campus Ministries a few years ago, is now overseen by the Diversity Office. Since its origins, the need has only increased: “Pantry usage is up 283% from two years ago,” Patterson says. It’s not just students who live off campus who need the pantry; students in the dorms may run out of money for their meal plan before the semester ends.
Thanks to Patterson’s efforts, the word is spreading. Ivyside Eats has both a website and a Facebook page; Instagram is soon to follow. The pantry accepts both money and shelf-stable food donations, some of which comes from the community and, of course, “faculty and staff are amazing,” she says. In addition, this year the Penn State Altoona Winter Plunge is raising money for the pantry. The Penn State University Library System also organized a food-collection drive at its libraries.
In other efforts to raise awareness of the problem, Patterson is planning another Hunger Banquet; the first one was held in 2019. “When you walk in the door, you draw a paper telling you the place where you sit and the meal that you eat, which are determined by the luck of the draw, just as in real life some of us are born into relative prosperity and others into poverty. You may get a full meal served to you (the wealthy), eat from a buffet (the middle class), or eat on the floor (the poor).”
Donations to Ivyside Eats have included more than food. At the moment a few boxes containing extra t-shirts from events wait for people who need them. Patterson says a donation of socks flew off the shelves and she’s hoping next year to have hats and gloves for the winter season. She also encourages anyone with bulk items they think students might be able to use to contact her. “If you have stuff, ask!”
Students in need can go to the pantry on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m.; other hours by appointment 7 days a week. Online ordering is now available as well. The pantry’s services are anonymous; students’ privacy is respected. Ivyside Eats is dedicated to the idea that no student should have to go hungry just to get an education.–
–Therese Boyd, ’79