Starting last semester, new, free little pantries began popping up around Drake University’s campus. The idea for the pantries came from Renee Sedlacek, director of the Office of Community Engaged Learning and Service at Drake. The concept is to take what you need and leave what you can in order to help combat hunger in and around the Drake neighborhood.
“It’s pretty easy to figure out that there’s a huge gap between Drake University campus and then the Drake neighborhood surrounding,” said Katie O’Keefe, a junior news major with a LEAD concentration.
The Office of Community Engaged Learning and Service at Drake was offered a grant from Wellmark for $10,000. A LEAD class, offered last spring, was tasked with creating the free little pantries for the Drake neighborhood using this grant money.
“We did some research, and we found out that food insecurity is a big issue, not only a little on Drake’s campus, but specifically within the neighborhood around it,” O’Keefe said.
By the end of the semester, three pantries were installed: one near Goodwin-Kirk Residence Hall at the bus stop, one at the Olmsted parking lot and one at the Drake University Sprout Garden.
The free little pantries project is set to see an expansion in the near future with the hopes of installing more pantries throughout the Drake neighborhood. Six new locations have been selected, most of them near local churches.
Parker Klyn, a senior at Drake studying news/internet with a concentration in LEAD, was one of the first students to be involved in the project. He first got involved through the LEAD 100 class offered last spring, and his participation continued through a LEAD capstone class offered over the summer.
“Last semester, our big goal at the end was to have all of Drake’s pantries installed, which we did get,” Klyn said. “So that was our big goal for last semester.”
The pantries located near Drake’s campus certainly saw a lot of use this summer. O’Keefe mentioned that many families have a harder time providing food over the summer while their children are not in school.
Due to the nature of the community-led pantries, it is sometimes hard to gauge their efficiency.
“An empty pantry can obviously mean two things,” Klyn said. “It can either mean that nobody’s stocking it, or it can mean that it’s being utilized very well.”
Klyn said he is hopeful that participation will increase now that students are back on campus, and he and the other two students from the LEAD capstone have ideas for boosting participation across the campus community as well.
“It’s been a lot, but it’s been rewarding, too,” Klyn said. “I live right next to the one at Goodwin-Kirk, and every time I see there’s food in it, it’s such an awesome feeling.”
The installment of the pantries is expected to contribute vastly to the community.
“We thought this pantry project would be a great way to not only bridge those two communities together, but provide a resource to the community that they didn’t have,” O’Keefe said.
Anyone interested in donating can contribute non perishable food items, such as canned goods or box dinners.