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Food pantry open again to serve students, campus community

February 23rd, 2022

Student Life and Admissions staff visit the reopened Thresher Food Pantry.

The campus food pantry, now called Thresher Food Pantry, has reopened almost exactly two years after the pandemic closed it in March 2020.

The food pantry was launched Nov. 4, 2019, when two social work students, now graduates, and a faculty member met with Vice President for Student Life Samuel Haynes to talk about a problem they had identified: student food insecurity.

Akiyaa Hagen-Depusoir and Sophia Minder had seen that hunger was an issue for some Bethel students. Their proposal, backed by others in the social work department, was to open a food pantry on campus.

After the students and their professor, Ada Schmidt-Tieszen (now retired), had some setbacks trying to get a pantry started, President Jon Gering asked Haynes to work with them.

When Bethel shut down along with the rest of the country on March 13, 2020, so did the food pantry. There have been attempts to reopen it since then, and especially to make it COVID-safe, and the time finally seemed right.

There was a public reopening Feb. 21, when students, staff and faculty stopped by for a cupcake and to see the pantry on the ground floor of Haury Hall.

The pantry is intended to serve Bethel students (off campus and on), staff and faculty who are experiencing food insecurity.

It is open weekdays from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and weekends from noon-3 p.m., operating on the honor system with users asked to sign in with their campus ID number only, to protect privacy.

One student worker, junior Louis Etienne, is responsible for opening, closing, watching the inventory and shopping as needed, while junior Shanti Kauffman works with Haynes on operations as part of her social work scholarship.

That means she helped plan the opening and continues to work with him on what the pantry should carry, how it is funded, assessing its usefulness and implementing changes, and other broad logistics, Haynes said.

“I want to express my appreciation to all the student workers,” he said, “including Ashton Roth, who helped with the food pantry during the fall semester.”

At the time the pantry first opened, in November 2019, the College & University Food Bank Alliance (cufba.org) had gathered data on relevant student populations.

Among CUFBA’s findings: low-income students enrolling in college at increasing rates; more than a third of undergraduate students at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline; a majority of college students classified as “nontraditional,” meaning they fit one or more of six criteria that include “single parent” and “must provide for dependents.”

All these things add up to an imperative to help more students with basic daily necessities.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring the food pantry back,” Haynes said. “I am personally and professionally excited for this reopening.”

He pointed out that some new items have been added, including personal hygiene items and basic school supplies.

“Future plans include possibly expanding to offer bedding and certain items of donated clothing such as coats,” Haynes continued. “We have a refrigerator now and also hope in the fall to add perishable items, like fresh fruits and vegetables and bread.”

From the day the food pantry first opened, Haynes said, there has been broad community support for it.

Helping to get it started, Bethel's Social Work Club made the very first donation to the pantry. Several members of Bethel College Mennonite Church gave money and Bluestem-Kidron Bethel in North Newton had a food drive.

Another BCMC food drive just this past Advent season yielded more food and additional funds to help restock the pantry.

“Dillon’s/Kroger Foods has made financial donations,” Haynes said, “and we have had continuous support from Aladdin Foods, our cafeteria food service contractor, and food service director Luci Johnson – not only donating food but meal vouchers, and that has been ongoing all through the pandemic.

“The most remarkable has been the care and support of our students and the Department of Social Work,” he added, “starting with Akiyaa, Sophia and Professor Schmidt-Tieszen, and extending to our current student volunteers and others.”

The food pantry depends on donations to keep operating, Haynes added. To find out what items are needed and how to donate, e-mail studentlife@bethelks.edu or call 316-284-5234 Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel ranks at #15 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” and #31 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest, both for 2021-22. Bethel was the only Kansas college or university selected for the American Association of College & Universities’ 2021 Institute on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, and has been named a TRHT Campus Center. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.