By Riley Mulcahy
Going to college in the Bay Area is expensive enough, let alone living through a national pandemic that has affected millions of people's livelihoods. Saint Mary's Gael Pantry helps to bridge an economic gap by assisting students in securing food. Inspired by a group of students who led an event called "Economic Reality" showcasing the financial strain college students are faced with, the Gael Pantry strives to tackle the issue of food insecurity.
After the event, there was a more concentrated effort to help those battling hunger on Saint Mary's campus. In 2016, The Mission and Ministry Center, who runs the pantry, started "Solidarity Suppers." According to the Missions and Ministry Center Director Karin McClelland, the event strived to "educate on food insecurity, promote the pantry and demystify using such a resource." In October 2016, with the help of Sodexo, Saint Mary's food provider, the Mission and Ministry Center launched the Gael Pantry.
According to the Gael Pantry’s website, "reports show that between 20% and 60% of college students on a college or university campus experience food insecurity." Food insecurity is defined as "the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food." With these numbers in mind, it is safe to say that many students need a little extra help.
During a "Gael Pantry Pop Up" event in 2018, the center learned that only about fifty percent of the undergraduates at Saint Mary's had heard of Gael Pantry, and graduate students did not know about the service. At first, some students were apprehensive about the idea of going into a food pantry and being identified as needing services. However, the pantry is a confidential service, and there is no proof required to have access to the pantry.
Although discouraging that such a low number of students knew about the Gael Pantry, community events like the pop-up event helped raise awareness of the program.
In the spring of 2020, a mass exodus of students left their college campuses to return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there was a significant adjustment on how the Gael Pantry was run (reducing the number of paid staff and volunteers and adhering to COVID regulations), there were still students on campus who needed the pantry. International students and students who could not return home frequented the pantry.
Currently, the pantry is open for pick-up on campus 11:00 am-2:00 pm Tuesdays and Thursdays outside of the Mission and Ministry lounge, and off-campus students have access to the pantry at the Rheem Center, 8:00 am-5:00 pm Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students must order their desired items from the pantry before noon the day before picking up their items (Monday before noon if picking up on Tuesday). Additionally, a produce truck and expanded ordering services (including an app) for students are in the works.
According to McClelland, the connection to the Gael Pantry and the Mission and Ministry Center makes perfect sense. The Lasallian principles the Saint Mary's community ascribe to promote are faith, education, deep respect, and admiration for all peoples. Food insecurity may be challenging to notice in Moraga and other places in the Bay Area, but it is something that many students are facing.
To learn more about the Gael Pantry and order your items from the pantry, please go to:
Follow @GaelPantry on Instagram and Twitter for the most up to date information.
Victoria Vidales '21,