Since officially opening Jan. 20, Benny’s Pantry has helped many in need, thanks in large part to contributions from within Idaho State University and the surrounding community.
The initial idea for the pantry was inspired by Laura Vailas, a registered dietician familiar with the concepts of food insecurity and community nutrition.
Shortly after the conception of the idea, the Division of Student Affairs became involved. The Center for Orientation, Leadership and Service, also known as the LEAD Center, joined in shortly thereafter.
“This became an initiative that my office took on with the help of an advisory board that included Dr. Laura Vailas, Dr. Pat Terrell, Lowell Richards, Matt Bloxham from ASISU and Professor Laura McKnight from Dietetics,” said Brooke Barber, director of the LEAD Center.
Access to the pantry is not limited to students, as the goal is to help the entire ISU community.
“The pantry is available to anyone with a current Bengal ID: student, faculty or staff,” said Barber. “When they come to the pantry we ask them to sign an acceptance of food waiver and they swipe their Bengal ID. At that point they declare their household size, and then they are able to pick up a certain allotment of food.”
A major focus with the pantry has been placed on privacy and respect for those that choose to utilize it.
“One of the tenets of our mission statement is to respect the dignity of our community members who need to shop the pantry. That means that every volunteer helping us signs a confidentiality waiver. It means that we respect the privacy of our shoppers,” said Barber. “When they enter, we do not discuss their name at length beyond signing that waiver form. We do not mention their name and we allow them to enter with a little bit of anonymity.”
Every ISU community member is allowed to shop the pantry two times per month.
The pantry’s primary purpose is to offer an alternative to individuals who find themselves in periods of food emergency.
“We’re not able to sustain full grocery shopping for every community member,” said Barber. “This is not a weekly trip to the grocery store. This is meant to be used in those moments when an individual does not know where their next meal will come from, or they are simply unable to afford nutritious foods.”
In its first two weeks, the pantry served a total of 15 households, ranging from individuals to entire families.
Rick Cheatum, business development manager for the Idaho State University Credit Union, has been very involved with the pantry, which recently held an event called Feed the Beast to stock its shelves.
“We came up with the idea after the launch of it and the groundbreaking,” said Cheatum. “We had this new vehicle which we call the beast, which is a converted armored car. Maybe we could generate a little noise and a little activity and get the university community to respond in that way and fill Benny’s Pantry.”
The total amount of food collected from the event was 426.46 pounds.
Cheatum cites his astonishment at the number of needy individuals on campus among the reasons he chose to support the pantry.
“It just doesn’t seem right that there are people hungry on campus. I was blown away by the idea that three-quarters of the families who have had children in the Early Learning Center are on food stamps,” said Cheatum. “We talk about the poor, hungry college student, but I always thought that was just a phrase. It never struck me that that might really be the case and that someone might be making choices between eating and furthering their education. Not in today’s world. Not here.”
In addition to putting on the Feed the Beast event, the credit union also made a monetary donation.
Chartwells has also made donations to the cause.
Multiple student organizations have also put time in or brought food donations to show their support of Benny’s Pantry.
Help of any kind is instrumental in making sure that Vailas’ idea continues to become a reality.
Strong support from the ISU community has helped to ensure that a difference can be made through the platform that Benny’s Pantry has provided.
The pantry is still accepting non-perishable donations of all kinds but has begun to specify items that are especially needed.
“The big push for February is infant and toddler food, formula and diapers,” said Barber. “In March we’ll have a different push, a different drive.”
For individuals wishing to donate, the currently needed items will be advertised through the pantry’s social media pages, as well as on its website.
As February is National Canned Food Month, donations in food form may be dropped off directly to the pantry or at the Campus Connection desk during operating hours.
Monetary donations may be given to the ISU Foundation.
Benny’s Pantry is located in Room 120A, directly beside the billiard room in the Student Union Building, and is open Monday from 12 to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m., and Thursday from 12 to 2 p.m.
Anyone interested in volunteering at the pantry can email ude.usinull@dael for further information.