In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment and economic decline have left many families struggling to fill basic needs. One of the ways Drake University is helping with this is through the Free Little Pantries program.
Erin Bell, who leads the live mascot program at Drake, has been collecting donations for the free little pantries for years, including at Griff’s birthday party last spring.
“So I’ve kind of done it sporadically for several years, then Griff’s birthday party last May, we decided to collect donations for the free little pantries instead of gifts for Griff,” Bell said. “We got a ton of donations, more than I ever imagined, so over the summer he and I would stop by the little pantries and put things in there. It just kind of took off, and since then we’ve just kind of assisted in promoting it and doing whatever we can.”
Bell attributes part of the program’s success to people’s eagerness to get out and participate in something during a time of social distancing and quarantine.
“It was two months into the super strict quarantine and people were just eager to get out and do something fun with other people,” Bell said.
According to Bell, the pantries are an easy way to give back to the community in a time when other options may be limited by social distancing.
“They’ve been around for awhile, and it’s just something that people have really taken to,” Bell said. “It’s just such an easy way to contribute and help people, especially with the virus. You don’t come in contact with anyone, you can stop by anytime, and it’s just an easy way to give back.”
More recently, the National Panhellenic Council at Drake held a donation drive to collect food for the pantries.
“It’s just something we always try to do with community service, and we had a pretty good turnout,” NPHC Vice President Layana Sariah said. “A lot of people came to donate.”
Sariah said that the importance of helping out the community has increased during the pandemic.
“It’s just neighbors supporting neighbors, so if you’re able to give you give, if you’re able to take you take and get what you need,” Sariah said. “We’re all hoping it is mutually beneficial to everyone. It is really important, neighbors helping neighbors, we’re all connected through our community.”
The need is especially increased during the upcoming holiday season.
“I definitely think with the holiday season and like big meals or family get-togethers, it’s super important with people losing jobs and everything that’s going on,” Sariah said. “It is very important to donate to the free little pantries, and we’re going to try to do it more often if we can.”
Bell said she tries to use Griff II’s platform as live mascot to increase awareness for the pantries.
“If there’s a collection being done by anyone for the little free pantries, we try to promote it when we know about it,” Bell said. “It’s a cause I love, I love the idea of it, and I love how easy it is. It’s something I encourage people to do because it makes a really big difference.”
According to Bell, she feels it is important to use the live mascot program to promote good causes.
“It’s a good way to use his platform for something good and kind of promote the whole cause,” Bell said. “That’s the whole thing with the live mascot program, it’s a good way to spread all things positive and promote different causes. I try to use his voice in a very good way, that’s the whole reason we’re here.”
The pandemic has added a new level of urgency to the cause, and Bell encourages anyone who can to donate.
“There’s just so many people that are struggling, so many people that are unemployed, I think the need is greater than it’s ever been,” Bell said. “I think people who are doing okay are more inclined to give more now than ever, because we all realize that people are hurting and struggling. The need is greater than ever.”