Wesley campus food pantry serves students

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Wesley Campus Ministry's food pantry aims to partner with other organizations and offices on campus as it seeks to expand its reach in the fall semester. COURTESY PHOTO / MAX BLALOCK

Wesley Campus Ministry, partnered with the Wesley Foundation and Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at the College of William and Mary, launched the campus’ first food pantry on Wednesday January 23 as part of a pilot program to address the needs of food-insecure students at the College.

Wesley Campus Ministry Campus Food Pantry Student Coordinator Kate Newell ‘21 said the food pantry is open to students of the College as well as any family members who they have designated as dependents. Only a student ID is necessary to access the food pantry’s services.

“We really want the Food Pantry to feel like a welcome and open space,” Newell said. “And so that’s why it’s student run; that’s why we want to make sure we know who the volunteers are, just so that when people come in, they know that they are welcome.”

“We really want the Food Pantry to feel like a welcome and open space,” Newell said. “And so that’s why it’s student run; that’s why we want to make sure we know who the volunteers are, just so that when people come in, they know that they are welcome.”

Max Blalock, the Wesley Campus minister for the past eight years, said he occasionally encounters food-insecure people in his current position.

“Anecdotally, we have, through our relationship with folks at the College, found out about students who were homeless or in need of food through the years and have helped out students down through the years — as it ends up, our campus ministry [did] a lot before me,” Blalock said.

Blalock noted that conversations materialized between Wesley Campus Ministry members and Wesley Foundation Board members as interest in addressing food-insecurity needs at the College intensified.

“As far as I know, from everybody that I’ve talked to, we don’t have any data on the actual level of food-insecurity amongst students at William and Mary, that no survey or anything like that has been done,” Blalock said.

College Deputy Chief Diversity Officer Dania Matos said she personally knew of people who would benefit from the Food Pantry, and after speaking with other individuals who felt similarly, began working alongside Blalock and Wesley Foundation Board member Stephanie Slocum.

After being approved by the Wesley Foundation Board, the project’s initial operational plan aims to focus on College students, and Matos hopes that the project will expand to serve College faculty and staff members in the upcoming fall semester.

“Together, this was a dream team that quickly brought our collective dream into a reality,” Matos said in an email. “I encouraged Max to apply to the IDEA grant program and I am proud to say that the Campus Food Pantry initiative is one of this year’s grantees. In researching most campus food pantries, I know that students are served, but I want to ensure that our faculty and staff communities are also served in the near future.”

While the Food Pantry has not been opened up to Thomas Nelson Community College or other colleges in the area, Blalock looks forward to future expansion.

The pantry is run by volunteers who are trained in confidentiality. According to Newell, only members of Wesley Campus Ministry and Alpha Phi Omega, the College’s service fraternity, currently serve as volunteers.

Newell said that they would like to include College students who are not associated with these organizations in the future, but that their main priority is ensuring the program’s sound operation before any expansion of volunteer programs takes place.

“For now, we wanted to keep it small, just to make sure we covered our bases and we know the volunteers pretty well,” Newell said. “That said, some of our Board members also volunteer. So the Wesley Foundation’s Board members have asked to work with us as well just to see what we are actually doing, so we will have some of them in the future, too.”

According to Blalock, other organizations and offices around campus have been supportive of the Food Pantry initiative.

The Office of Sustainability, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Residence Life, the Raymond A. Mason School of Business and Dining Services are investigating potential collaboration with Wesley’s food pantry. Newell noted that FISH Inc., a catering community in Williamsburg, additionally sponsors the Food Pantry.

Blalock said that responses from the College and Williamsburg are encouraging, making him eager for the pantry’s long-term success.

“We started this discussion about the Food Pantry, and news just spread via word of mouth that the Food Pantry was going to get started for students on campus,” Blalock said. “It’s been phenomenal, the level of response that’s come from across the campus. It’s been from student groups; it’s been from faculty; it’s been from staff.”