This story was originally published on Oct. 29. Last updated on Dec. 14 at 9:46 p.m.
Last month, Kroger donated $20,000 to Swoop’s Pantry to help “eliminate food insecurity among students,” following a request from Swoop’s Pantry to the EMU Board of Regents for additional resources due to heightened demand.
The donation was a part of Kroger’s “Zero Hunger | Zero Waste” program which has set out to help end hunger and food waste among its communities.
Following the Dec. 13 EMU Board of Regents meeting, EMU President James M. Smith commented on the progress of Swoop’s Pantry.
“Part of the gift from GameAbove, the student portion of that gift, is dedicated to Swoop’s Pantry [expansion]. Kroger just did a $20,000 gift to Swoops. It’s easier to take a gift than to [do construction], so it’s going to be a slower process but we now have dollars identified.”
Smith also said that there were early talks of possibly moving Swoop’s Pantry out of Pierce Hall, “We’ve even thought about, ‘do we leave Pierce Hall and look for a standalone facility’, I would say those are all just in the early discussion stages.”
Though while he said there was discussion about whether to move Swoop’s, he stated that his personal preference is for it to remain in Pierce Hall, “They’re working on construction schematics. My preference would be to stay in Pierce, because you’ve got the drive-up, you’ve got some things that are attractive to students [in the area]."
Speaking at the Oct. 25 EMU Board of Regents meeting, Dr. Paul Leighton, a professor of Sociology, expressed concern that Swoop’s Pantry is struggling to meet increased demand.
Leighton, who currently serves as the Chair of Swoop’s Advisory Board, addressed the board on behalf of Swoop’s Pantry, saying that Swoop’s has seen a 50% increase in demand from last year. In September 2018, there were 294 shopping trips to Swoop’s. Last month, there was an increase of 159 additional shopping trips, for a total of 453.
Swoop’s Pantry opened on Sept. 21, 2015, as a project led by then-EMU student Haley Moraniec. Realizing the everyday struggles of some EMU students, Moraniec decided to lead an effort to help solve food insecurity on campus.
Originally located on the third floor of Marshall, Swoop’s moved to Pierce Hall only a year after its opening to allow for expansion following a large increase in demand.
Now, only three years later, the pantry is already struggling to keep up with demand given its current space limitations.
“The demand has increased to the point where we need extra storage space within Pierce Hall . . . The current arrangement is not sustainable because it involves the leadership of the food pantry driving to grocery stores too frequently to bring back car loads of food,“ Leighton said. "Our current small storage space is in another building, which requires us to move food to it and from it, as Michigan winter sets in."
Leighton asked the regents for additional storage space within Pierce Hall. Addressing the board, he said, “The lack of storage space will deprive some students with essential items . . . please support us with storage space in Pierce Hall, so we can increase our support to EMU students. If you can provide the space, we can find shelving, a refrigerator, food and the resources to put it to good use."
When asked about the cause of this dramatic increase, Leighton said, “Part of it is better word of mouth, the students who shop there are telling other people about it and that it’s a good experience. The university has also done more to advertise that we’re here for students that might want the help.”
He also expressed concern about the economic situation of students, saying, “We also think part of it is just that the current economic situation isn’t improving for most of our students. So we’re seeing more demand because of more need.”
During September 2019, Swoop’s distributed 8,600 pounds of food to students experiencing food insecurity. During this time period, the pantry experienced two record days, in which 86 shopping trips occurred, with 1,600 pounds of food being distributed.
Long-term solutions won’t come easy. There are many aspects to solving food insecurity, as Leighton describes, “Longer term [solutions are] a much harder conversation about the economic reality of students and that includes the housing insecurity part, a lot of students make tradeoffs between paying rent and buying food.”
In fact, housing insecurity is another topic getting increased attention on campus. Student Body President Ethan Smith and Vice President Hajer Abuzir used their time to address the regents to raise the issue of housing insecurity.
“Look at affordable housing, look at economic development in the area, look at college affordability, there’s a lot to work on that’s also necessary,” Leighton said.
After the board of regents meeting on Friday, EMU President James M. Smith said, “We’re gonna find an answer for expanding Swoop’s, we’re gonna find an answer for ‘how do we provide housing for people who have housing insecurity', we’re gonna do that, it’s just I don't have that answer today. We’re going to have to keep working at it.”
Geoff Larcom, Executive Director of Media Relations, said that the university will be working with Swoop’s leadership to determine the best path forward.
Swoop’s Pantry provides nutritious food, toiletries and household items to students experiencing food or housing insecurity on campus. For more information about how to utilize these resources, visit their official website at https://emich.edu/swoopspantry/index.php.