Help Swoop’s Food Pantry Continue to Serve Students

How can you possibly try to earn a college degree on an empty stomach? Eastern Michigan University’s Swoop’s Food Pantry is their commitment to make sure that no one ever finds out, but in the face of an alarming increase in demand, the nine year old institution needs help to ensure that they are going to be able to keep serving the community into the future.

“Overall, we’ve had a very large increase in the utilization of the pantry,” Swoop’s Graduate Assistant Roya Herrle said. Swoop has had “over a 100 percent increase in the number” of students visiting to shop there since this same time last year.

While they are still financially stable, Swoop’s needs to continue to find a steady stream of supporters to keep up with their mission to keep EMU students fed, healthy and capable of earning the degrees they need to live financially stable lives and obtain their professional ambitions.

Pierce Hall. Photo provided by omeka.emich.edu.Swoop’s reports providing over 588,880 pounds of goods to students across 33,468 student visits since 2015.

“We offer shelf stable items like pasta, pasta sauce, peanut butter and jelly, canned fruit and vegetables, beans,” Julie Harkema, Swoop’s faculty adviser, said.

Inflation and the cost of living were already straining society before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the economy into convulsions. While inflation has gone down in the last few quarters, it has not gone down evenly, and the cost of living is still making life hard for many students. An analysis of demand from Swoop’s, found that the number of annual shoppers went from around 1,000 in 2015 to around 11,000 in 2022.

Swoop Pantry. Photo Provided by Eastern Michigan University.

Students are required to fill out an intake form for shopping. About 80 to 100 students utilize the pantry everyday Monday through Friday, during the school year, according to Swoop’s. The primary goods provided are non-perishable foodstuffs, but other household items like toiletries are also available.

These figures, provided an analysis conducted by Swoop’s Pantry interns and GA’s, did not formally include 2023 statistics. But according to Herrle, Swoop’s did see over 13,000 shop visits go through its doors last year.

“Swoop’s Food Pantry is vital in providing food security for our student population, ensuring they have the necessary support to thrive academically and personally. Swoop’s is an important safety net that the University is committed to supporting. In fact, Dr. Connie Ruhl-Smith and I make it part of our regular weekly grocery shopping routine to include items for Swoop’s. The Pantry also receives generous assistance from hundreds of people on our campus and in the greater external community, including Eastern alumni and organizations such as GameAbove,” EMU University President James Smith wrote said in an email. “Access to food is essential for all students, whether at Eastern or anywhere in the country. This is particularly important for students who have financial constraints, which are made even more difficult by rising food costs. Providing this resource allows students to focus on their studies and a healthier lifestyle, enabling them to more fully engage in their academic pursuits.”

The pantry is located on the ground floor of Pierce Hall, on the other side of the otherwise administrative building from the bell tower, near Rosevelt Hall. You might not know where to go once you walk into the somewhat labyrinthian series of corridors and rooms. But once you acquaint yourself with the place, you’ll find a friendly staff mostly made up of students, with a tried and true sense of inherent organization of the food, toiletries, pet food, baby formula and lightly used clothing on hand.

Swoop’s can even come to the rescue of financially strapped students facing the prospect of graduating without being able to afford a gown. Alumni donate their used ones to the pantry, to be washed and reused by others.

A perennial problem is not having the supply to meet all of the food needs that students might have. While they will always have cans of beans and other non-perishable goods on hand, students with dietary requirements like lactose intolerance or gluten free digestive needs may occasionally find the availability very hit or miss as they are constantly on the lookout for fresh supplies of food items to serve every need.

Students are the primary target group for this pantry, whether it is to provide all or some of their foods; however, some alumni in the area may also apply. They will serve people with no affiliation with Eastern on a “severe and refer” basis; meaning they will help that person with food aid once, while also referring them to social services from other organizations like the SOS Community Services for more sustained assistance.

Students living with children, siblings, roommates or elderly family members can help support them with the pantry if they are in financial distress.

“When filling out our intake form we inquire about how many household members you’re hoping to feed with the food you receive at Swoop’s. Oftentimes we do have some numbers or people with children, or are feeding additional family or household members, and it is the same for most shoppers. If they have more than four members of their household overall, they are able to take double the usual amount on some items, that are labeled,” Herrle said.

What Swoop’s really needs to continue to succeed is a consistent flow of support. This already comes from a four legged stool of constant support from Eastern’s Board of Regents, the EMU Foundation – a non-profit financial institution that raises funds to benefit Eastern and its community – as well as donations from non-profit food equity programs like Food Gatherers and public donations. Food Gatherers provides about 40 to 50 percent of the pantry’s available food, according to Harkema.

“Food Gatherers worked with students and faculty to help launch EMU Swoop’s Food Pantry in 2015. Last year, we made 64 deliveries to Swoop’s, totaling 111,709 pounds of food. Shopping at Swoop’s helps students stretch their budget and spend more time focused on their coursework and enjoying their college experience,” Food Gatherers Communications Coordinator Lauren Grossman said in an email.

Monetary donations can be made through the EMU Foundation. You can donate funds through their website or through a check to: EMU Foundation P.O. Box 972057 Ypsilanti.

Non-perishable food items can be donated to 100 Pierce Hall. They will also pick up items for anyone with non-perishable food items from your home or business. You can schedule this by emailing swoos_pantry@emich.edu. They also have an Amazon wish list for imminently needed items.

Swoop’s Food Pantry. 100 Pierce Hall, Ypsilanti. 734-487-4173. swoops_pantry@emich.edu.

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