Penn Staters help fight hunger during coronavirus outbreak

March 25, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Crates full of eggs, rolls, berries, green peppers, asparagus and apples are just some of the foods that were loaded onto a truck at Penn State’s Housing and Food Services Building last week to be donated to people in need across the state. 

With increasing demand on food banks across the country due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, staff members in Penn State Housing and Food Services are striving to alleviate food insecurity by donating fresh produce, dairy and other food products to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and State College Area School District, as well as making plans to contribute nonperishable items to Penn State’s Lion’s Pantry, which remains open to support students in need. 

“With students at University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses learning remotely for the remainder of the spring semester, the University has a stock of fresh and perishable foods that no longer will be used on campuses and that instead can be shared with those who are negatively impacted by coronavirus and who may be experiencing food insecurity,” said Cheryl Fabrizi, assistant vice president for Housing and Food Services.

Last week, the first shipment of more than 1,000 pounds of fresh food items made its way to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank (CPFB) in Williamsport, where it will be distributed among a network comprised of 1,000 food pantries, service agencies, soup kitchens and shelters in 26 counties across the state.

“We know this is a difficult time for many, and this is an opportunity to help students and those in need in our communities, as well as redirect food, so it doesn’t go to waste,” said Anna Sostarecz, sustainability coordinator in Housing and Food Services. 

Housing and Food Services has partnered with CPFB since 2018 — and in that time has donated more than 28,000 pounds of food from its residential and retail dining operations. 

“We typically donate before holiday breaks and vacations, but we anticipate this will be an ongoing effort for the foreseeable future,” said John Mondock, director of purchasing at Penn State. “In addition to taking care of the limited number of students who remain on campus, this provides a glimmer of hope knowing we can help serve the community during this trying time.”

The Nittany Lion Inn, Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, and Intercollegiate Athletics also are chipping in to donate perishable items like milk and other dairy products. 

With the evolving coronavirus outbreak, the team expects to make regular donations to the food bank, as well as contribute to local partners like State College Area School District (SCASD), which is still providing daily breakfast and lunch to local K-12 students while schools are closed. Donated cheese, soup, yogurt, muffins and hummus will help feed about 500 students daily

“No child should go hungry just because schools are closed,” said Megan Schaper, food service director for SCASD. “The meals that we are providing, supplemented with the food donated by Penn State, help alleviate the strain of a long, unexpected break to families in need.”

HFS food donation

Penn State Housing and Food Services donated a variety of fruits, vegetables, boxed foods and more to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank on the afternoon of Mar. 19.

IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

There also are plans in the works to donate to the Lion’s Pantry — a student-run food pantry for students at University Park — which accepts nonperishable, shelf-stable items like canned vegetables, snacks, pasta, grains, toiletries and household products. 

To support students who remain on campus or live locally, the Lion’s Pantry will stay open, and will be posting updated pantry hours on its website and social media channels. 

“We’re committed to continuing to hold open hours and maintain our pre-bagged food program, as well as assist students in finding other University and community resources that may be able to also help them in this unprecedented and difficult time,” said Sarah Hohman, a Penn State student and Lion’s Pantry communications coordinator. “We are grateful for the generosity of our donors as well as faculty and staff that are assisting our efforts to keep our shelves stocked and our open hours maintained.”

Along with visiting during open hours, students can use the online form to submit a bagged food order in advance to pick up at the Lion’s Pantry. 

For the safety of clients and volunteers, the pantry has implemented several precautionary measures, including disinfecting shelves, doorknobs and counters frequently during open hours; providing gloves for clients and volunteers; and limiting the number of individuals in the pantry at one time to maintain social distancing practices. 

“We recognize that several of our clients who rely on the resources we provide are facing additional challenges at this time and we will continue to support them as much as possible,” said Sayre Bradley, a Penn State student and president of the Lion’s Pantry. 

Food pantries on other Penn State campuses also are staying open or offering pick-ups, including those at Penn State Behrend, Harrisburg and Lehigh Valley.

“It’s been inspiring to see how everyone is working together to try to make this situation into the best it can be,” said Jim Meinecke, associate director of residential dining at Penn State. “We’re in a situation nobody saw coming, but we’re pulling together as a Penn State community to do what we can to support our students, friends and neighbors.”

We Are” stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment -- and we want to hear your “We Are” stories. Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by novel coronavirus. We are!

Last Updated March 26, 2020