When funds get low, almost every student has had to do it. Resorting to Ramen or peanut butter has been a rite of passage for many college students. However, when struggling to just find enough food to scrape by, grades and health can start to suffer. And it isn’t just students who feel the tightness in their food and hygiene budget. Some staff and faculty also often struggle to meet their day-to-day sustenance needs.
In March 2017, University of Oklahoma Student Government Association students stepped in and formed a food pantry. Entirely student run, the OU Food Pantry continues to serve the campus’s entire community. All that’s required to access the food pantry is an OU ID. I spoke with Matt Marks, graduate director of the OU Food Pantry, about the organization’s history, how it works and what you can do to help.
Can you give me a brief history of your organization?
This was an initiative that the university had wanted for a few years prior, and after a year’s work, with students and staff working together, the pantry was able to open. The pantry is all student-run and operated. Since opening, students have built up volunteer, donation and marketing operations to make sure the pantry is sustainable.
How does your organization work?
We offer a wide range of items from canned and boxed goods to toiletry items such as soap, shampoo and toothpaste. Our clients can shop on their own during our operation hours or they have the option to order from our online shopping list. If they choose the latter, our staff will box up their orders and have them ready for pickup. The purpose for that is to make it as easy and stress free as possible for our customers.
What unique obstacles does your organization face?
We are very unique in the sense that we operate like a student organization but are also conducting business as a nonprofit. Many people don’t think of college students, let alone staff and faculty, as needing assistance, but since opening our numbers continue to climb as people find out about us. One of our biggest challenges is keeping the shelves stocked with certain items. We rely on our partnerships and donors. Additionally, down the road we will be looking to grow in space, as currently we tend to pack out our small room during our busiest times.
What can readers do to help?
We are always looking for donations, whether that be monetary or food/toiletry items. Our support from the community since we opened has been fantastic. We have grown in our partnerships with local businesses in the last six months. But, the fight against hunger is far from over. We have students and staff who need your help. One of the greatest fundamental values of the state of Oklahoma is the sense of community. Our pantry has been a benefactor of that community, and we want that to continue to grow. From serving families of five to students who need help getting through the weekend, our pantry is committed to making sure everyone is taken care of. We want Oklahomans to be a part of this process with us. Anyone who wants to volunteer or donate, we would gladly appreciate the help!