Ohio State alumna and Student Wellness Center team member Michaela Martin unpacks boxes at the Buckeye Food Alliance. The BFA serves Ohio State's student community.
Josh Debo is well aware that many Ohio State students might be uncomfortable visiting the Buckeye Food Alliance’s food pantry. Maybe they don’t want to be seen as struggling or in-need. It’s a stigma Debo and those within BFA regularly fight to overcome.
However, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak resulting in lost jobs on campus and at area businesses, the food pantry is well stocked to help Ohio State students get groceries. In fact, the BFA has expanded its pantry hours to give students ample access to food and other goods.
“Getting past some of that stigma is more important than ever,” said Debo, the BFA president and a neuroscience major set to graduate in May.
“We’ve always tried to make it a very welcoming place — nobody’s going to judge you. Especially now, these are unprecedented times. It’s one of the best times for students to come and visit, even if you’re just looking to supplement your daily nutrition list.”
The food pantry — open solely at its 150 Lincoln Tower location for the time being — is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, 4 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. If those hours don’t accommodate schedules, students can email Student Life’s Buckeye Food Alliance Coordinator Nick Fowler (email@example.com) to schedule a visit any day of the week, including weekends.
BFA extended its hours after seeing a spike in visitors — 72 — the week of the expanded spring break, March 16 through 20, when it was open only two days. In the first two days of the expanded hours, March 23 and 24, the food pantry saw 39 visitors.
Ohio State alumni and Buckeye Food Alliance team members Nick Fowler and Michaela Martin stock the BFA pantry.
Some of the procedural changes include switching to one location, at Lincoln Tower, where the university’s staff can ensure the facility is thoroughly cleaned. The BFA staff is also making pre-packaged grocery bags, including vegan, gluten free, no-dietary restriction and religious-friendly bags, to limit touching of grocery items.
Fowler ’16 is also doing the shopping and packaging for students as they arrive with a shopping list to help maintain social distancing and decrease handling of items.
“We really want students to feel comfortable coming in,” Fowler said.
Any student, undergrad or graduate, with a BuckID can visit the pantry, which started in 2016 after a report showed 15% of Ohio State’s undergraduate students, about 7,000, had low food security. BFA started as a student organization but is now part of the Student Life Student Wellness Center.
“The growth of (BFA) has skyrocketed,” said Michaela Martin ’14, MA ’19, the assistant director for the Student Life Student Wellness Center and former advisor to BFA. “Now is a good time for more students to realize the food pantry is here for them.
“Students are transitioning to online learning, figuring out their next job, doing job interviews, graduating and so many things are all up in the air. We’re trying to alleviate a burden. We have food for you, we can help you. This is the time more than ever to utilize the food pantry.”
While BFA is having more visitors, it is also seeing more who want to donate, according to Fowler who said his inbox is blowing up with people asking how they can help.
“People’s lives have been disrupted but they’re pausing and asking, ‘What about the students?’” Fowler said. “Grocery stores are empty, but people are still taking time to pull from their reserves to make sure our students have food. It’s very humbling to see how much people care about our students. It’s made me grateful to be doing the work I do knowing how important it is to our students and the community.”
If you are interested in donating to BFA’s pantry, money is a good option because it allows the organization flexibility to quickly get items it lacks. To make a monetary donation, visit the Student Food Pantry Fund.
To donate food or goods, email Fowler to coordinate a drop-off or pick up. The organization’s needs vary from day to day, but typically it runs low on spices along with personal care items such as soaps and shampoos, diapers, feminine hygiene products and toiletries. For the moment, BFA is asking anyone interested in volunteering to check in once the COVID-19 threats have passed.