University food pantry adapts to challenges brought on by pandemic
FRESH has continued to provide food insecure Brandeis students with access to free food throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Brandeis Food Pantry, recently renamed Food and Resources for Equitable and Sustainable Health, has become an essential part of the Brandeis community over the last two years. FRESH aims to supply undergraduate and graduate students with non-perishable and fresh food products, toiletry and hygiene items, as well as clothing and kitchen supplies.
In a Dec. 1 interview, Steve Weglinski, the Assistant Director of Graduate Student Affairs and Director of FRESH explained that the food pantry initiative began in the summer of 2018 to help graduate and undergraduate students receive access to food resources when needed. When it first opened, the food pantry partnered with the Greater Boston Food Bank to receive a consistent supply of healthy, non-perishable items for students. Prior to the pandemic, FRESH provided food services for 600-700 students annually. Of these students, 25% were undergraduates and 75% were graduate students. The FRESH website states that all products provided by the food pantry are free and only require students to register their names for the purpose of broad scale usage data.
On the topic of COVID-19, Weglinski said that the pandemic has altered the way that the food pantry operates, despite the services becoming increasingly important during this time when safety restrictions make it harder for students to access food. Due to COVID-19 precautions, the physical location of FRESH could not operate during the fall 2020 semester, but FRESH’s staff found ways to keep the pantry running. FRESH express staff delivered 20-30 pounds of non-perishable food items to students off campus once a month, said Weglinski. An additional service, FRESH Grab n Go, allows students to pick up packaged foods at the Skyline Multipurpose room on Tuesdays and Fridays during the fall and spring semesters.
Though demand for the food pantry’s services are higher while school is in session, FRESH express operates during breaks as well. During Thanksgiving, 100 bags containing frozen chicken or turkey and other foods were delivered to students. For students outside of the Waltham area, there was the option of a $15 UberEats voucher and a virtual Friendsgiving to support students who could not celebrate with family or friends. Throughout winter break, FRESH continued to make deliveries to local students, and Grab n Go will resume in the spring 2021 semester.
Weglinski said that 10-12% of Brandeis students have identified as currently experiencing food insecurity, meaning they do not have reliable access to affordable or nutritious foods. “Food insecurity can impact a student's ability to study and work,” Weglinski said. The food pantry’s goal is to provide critical resources to students in need and to assure that all Brandeis students feel comfortable and satisfied with their meals.
Development Office, Provost Office, Department of Community Living, Campus Dining and others. Additionally, there are a number of graduate students and volunteers whose efforts make FRESH services available.