This semester, the college initiated three new resources for students experiencing food insecurity and two new need-based grant opportunities. These programs, established through the Dean of Students Office, will provide a variety of pathways for students in financial need to get access to free food and other supplies.
The three food insecurity resources include Berg-Bites, a text-alert system that notifies community members when there is leftover food at a catered event, a meal-swipe donation bank where students can donate one meal swipe for students in need to use and the M.U.L.E. (Muhlenberg Useful Living Essentials) Community Cabinet.
The Community Cabinet is a food pantry that also provides school supplies and toiletries to any student. Located in Seegers Union Room 059, the Cabinet was created in part through the efforts of Krystal Hall ‘21, the student director of the Cabinet, and College Chaplain Rev. Kristen Glass Perez. Its creation was based on both nationwide trends of financial assistance programs at other colleges and through Muhlenberg created surveys and committees.
“For the summer, I was employed as an intern at the Dean’s Office, specifically to Allison Gulati,” explained Hall. “One of my main tasks was to do research on financial hardship programs at other colleges/universities. From then on, the idea of the community cabinet had been already set in motion but was waiting for further confirmation.”
Glass Perez also explained how the college set out to address students’ financial needs through a special committee.
“The M.U.L.E. Community Cabinet really comes out of a set of initiatives,” says Glass Perez. “Last year at the College, there was kind of a steering committee looking at a number of different factors to support students. I was on that committee along with faculty, staff and students and there are several initiatives…includ[ing] emergency grants for students for both academic and co-curricular experiences, and then also an issue that surfaced from that was a need for students to have access to what we would call basic needs.”
These basic needs are what the Community Cabinet seeks to provide. Stocked purely through donations, the Cabinet is filled with a wide variety of snacks, stationery and toiletries.
“When we finally got the green light on the Community Cabinet, my job was to put together a list of all the things we thought the cabinet should stock; things like food, hygiene and school supplies,” explained Hall. “I then made an Amazon wish list with all the items I put on the original list. This Amazon wish list then got shared with various faculty and staff members. From there, we got the shelving units and the physical space where the cabinet would be located and then went from there.”
The space itself, a small room in the basement of Seegers, is located near the Red Doors and close to a less utilized entrance to the student union, a factor Glass Perez and Hall explain is intentional to help students feel comfortable accessing the pantry.
“This space has been used for different things…We like [it] because it’s in Seegers so it is centrally located, but it’s also private,” says Glass Perez. “There’s an entrance near to here and it’s just the right amount of space that we needed.”
“This pantry will benefit the student body because it will allow students who don’t have the means to buy basic necessities for themselves find those necessities here on campus in a central location without them having to feel like they’re being judged because no one should ever feel like that,” says Hall.
Open to all Muhlenberg Students, including Wescoe students, the cabinet is open twice a week in the morning and evening on Tuesdays and Fridays, where participants will check in privately and confidentially on an iPad to help the Cabinet track its usage.
“Students are able to take as much as they need,” explains Glass Perez. “They check in here on an iPad…when they check in…we also ask, ‘What are some things that you’d like to see available?’ Right now, our hygiene items tend to be in demand. We also are noticing the need for laundry supplies, gluten free items and designated kosher items, and we take donations at any time.”
Donations can be left in carts found outside the Community Cabinet, at Egner Chapel and at the Leffell Center For Jewish Student Life. Those interested in donating can also contact Rev. Glass Perez to drop off donations.
“My hope is that in the near future, we will be able to expand to providing drinks (water, juice, etc), bookbags, dorm supplies (i.e. bed sheets, towels, washrags, etc.), kosher/gluten-free food items and much more,” says Hall.
The Cabinet is a reaction to both the popularity of foodbanks at other colleges and an expressed interest in such a program at Muhlenberg.
“A growing trend on college campuses are on-campus food banks such as this,” says Glass Perez. “We really used the guidelines and practices from something called the College and University Food Bank Alliance. They have a toolkit for setting up and managing a community cabinet such as this. When [the steering committee was] looking at different issues, in the Spring of 2018, a survey was conducted on campus for Muhlenberg students, and this is one of the things that came from that survey. Then throughout last year, different pockets of students expressed a need for something like this. So we’re really both responding to kind of a national trend but then also a localized trend here at Muhlenberg.”
Both Hall and Glass Perez acknowledge that the Community Cabinet may not provide all of a student in financial hardship’s needs; however, it is a necessary resource for supplementing other aid. If students want to find out more about financial resources and grant programs, they can visit the school’s new website: https://www.muhlenberg.edu/financialhardship/.
“At the cabinet, we really recognize that there are a lot of different needs for students at Muhlenberg and the cabinet is really designed to provide access to three different things right now,” explains Glass Perez. “Non-perishable food items, although we do have a freezer that has a few frozen foods in it, school supplies and personal hygiene items. We do not have any medicine or any health items; those are available in the Health Services…Again, this isn’t designed to provide all of anyone’s food, but we recognize, as expressed by our students, a need to supplement.”
“Having this pantry is so necessary at Muhlenberg because college isn’t cheap,” says Hall. “It’s the little things that financial aid doesn’t cover that can prevent someone from doing their best and being the best person that they can be. No one should have to struggle to feed themselves or buy basic necessities for college. There needs to be some means for people who can’t afford it. It brings me so much joy just to know that we’re helping so many people with this pantry.”