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Temple’s University's Cherry Pantry dispenses free food to students in need

Many students face food insecurity and depend on the pantry to eat

By Cole Cummings and Sayed Almousawi

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, student Antonio Rivera shuffled sideways past a cluster of other students and into Temple University’s Cherry Pantry, a food pantry for students.

It’s a snug office space with shelves lining the wall and a lone fridge. Rivera  grabbed three boxes of spaghetti, two marinara jars and a bundle of fruit. In between his work schedule, courseload and commute to school,  this was his weekly grocery store run. Rivera isn’t alone, 11,000 Temple students report facing food insecurity while one in ten don’t know where their next meal will come from.

“The pantry takes a lot of pressure off of my shoulders.” Rivera said.

The Cherry Pantry was opened in 2018 in response to a survey that said  36% of Temple undergraduates were food insecure, the pantry’s mission is to ensure no student has to choose between paying tuition and buying groceries. 

“We have our produce days, where we receive shipments of fresh fruit and vegetables.” said Annette Ditolvo, the Dean of Students and pantry director. “We help connect students with SNAP resources and we’ve opened distribution centers at our Center City and Ambler campus.”

Ditolvo said the latest fall semester the pantry averaged 332 student shoppers per week with only a few repeated customers. Last spring saw 206 students weekly, doubling the previous fall’s 102 students which is a 342% increase from that spring’s 75 visitors. 

“The need was always there, we’ve just been able to match that and capture that,” she said.

The selection of products is based on a virtual point system. For one point, you can obtain items such as beans, vegetables, snacks, and fruit cups. Two points offer a wider range of options, including soup, tuna, chicken, ramen, and rice sides, as well as oatmeal. For three points, the choices expand to include cereal, macaroni and cheese boxes, pasta, jelly, and baking mixes. Shoppers can take home up to 16 points worth of nonperishable food a week.

“It’s amazing. I love the Cherry Pantry,” said Jake, a senior engineering major who last name is not being used for privacy. He has regularly used the pantry for years.  “I pass it on my way home from class and when it’s produce day it’s very easy to get healthy food, for the resources they have, they’re doing a great job.” 

He said that he does not have a car and has to regularly carve out time to walk a mile and a half to the nearest grocery store. Working while also having a rigorous academic schedule has made it hard for him to fill his fridge. 

According to the USDA, food insecurity is defined by the limited or uncertain access to sufficient food for a healthy life. This condition can range from concerns about running out of food before being able to afford more, to having to skip meals due to financial constraints. On the other hand, a student not knowing where their next meal will come from represents a more acute form of food insecurity, indicating an immediate lack of access to food in the near future. 

The pantry is run completely by food and financial donations. It’s also student-led.

Student worker Tiana Jones is the pantry’s social media director. Photo by Sayed Almousawi

“So far this week we have had 216 visits and some of those people have come multiple times so we have had 266 total visits,” said Tiana Jones, a student and the social media administrator for the pantry. “We often serve around 300 to 500 students every week.”

Their platforms feature student testimonials, volunteer spotlights, and engaging challenges that rally food insecurity and sustainability campus clubs together. 

“We’re very mindful of the stigma around accessing social services,” Ditolvo said. “So we try to make the environment as welcoming as possible”.

Samantha Huugh, one of the longest tenured Cherry Pantry workers, said that staff tend to form close bonds.
“Being apart of the Cherry Pantry is not just about distributing food,” said Huugh. “It’s about building a sense of togetherness. No student should be alone with those types of problems.” 

Many of the students who visit the pantry said they allocate a significant portion of their finances to covering apartment rent and tuition fees, often resorting to consuming whatever food they can afford to sustain themselves.

One Temple junior spent a total of three minutes in the pantry, they grabbed a few cans and produce items and swiped their ID card to checkout. 

“A lot of people when they think of a pantry associate it with bad food or being rotten when it’s not like that at all,” the junior student said.

An audio production student who regularly uses the Cherry Pantry, underscored a broader impact the Cherry Pantry has had on the Temple community. 

“The pantry addresses an important need,” she said. “But it also sparks conversations about food insecurity and the various support systems we need for Temple students.”

“Thirty percent of Temple student athletes are food insecure, which is our most supported student population on campus,” said Marissa Cloutier, a public health professor at Temple and the co-chair of Temple’s food security taskforce. Being able to grab food when needed has been a challenge for many athletes in between practices and games.

The taskforce connects programs, clubs, professors and students interested in combating food insecurity on campus. This effort has resulted in “Fresh Produce Day”, a monthly food drive on campus where donated food is first come first serve. In the 2022-2023 school year, this event served 983 students with an average of 98 visits per event. 

The Cherry Pantry also conducts interactive joint campaigns with La Salle, Lehigh and UPenn that work together on food drives.

In order to increase funding the Cherry Pantry will implement a fundraising campaign that has seen success in the past raising $8,498.
“There are a bunch of different ways to get involved with us, you can shop with us, volunteer with us or donate with us.” Ditolvo said. “It’s also easy to donate, you can walk in during our operating hours and drop food off or you can go to the permanent donation collection bin in the library.”

Published April, 15, 2024