Eastern Michigan University students, under the direction of Dr. Sadaf Ali and Patrick Campion, were given the opportunity to create a reporting project as a final project in their CTAT 334 class. This is the work of Chauncey Mines, reporting on the work Swoop's Student Food Pantry does for the EMU community.
Swoop's Food Pantry is not just your average food pantry that you would find anywhere else. Located on Eastern Michigan’s campus right here in the heart of Ypsi, it serves students, staff, and even alumni. Today. we got a chance to sit down with Swoops Pantry and the current graduate assistant of Swoop's, Joelle Summers, to find out what exactly Swoops Pantry is.
JOELLE: "So, Swoop's Student Food Pantry is a nonprofit, student-led food pantry on EMU's campus that provides food assistance, as well as additional resources to the EMU community to positively impact EMU success."
CHAUNCEY: "OK, then right here on campus on in 104 Pierce Hall is where you can find current location?"
JOELLE: "Yes, that is on campus. We're located in 104 Pierce Hall."
Joelle tells us her key role and how she got started.
"Currently, I am the graduate assistant at Swoop's, and, so, my role is supervising our team members as well as working with our interns and our faculty advisor to plan events for the year and community outreach. I started at Swoop's as a sophomore in my undergrad--as I was getting my undergrad degree. And I started there as a pantry employee or team member, and I just loved it from the day I started. I worked from there. I really got close to the previous graduate assistant and just seeing the work that we built off of starting in my first year over in Marshall to coming over to Pierce. It's been really rewarding."
But Swoop's was not always this way. Throughout the years, Swoop's has grown, and their hard work is paying off.
"We've seen quite a few students just in the three years we've been open. We've given out about 105,000 pounds of food in three years. We've also expanded our space, so we moved into Pierce. We got a few more shelves and a few more refrigerators and freezers to hold more items, so that every student can have their choice of food. So, again, this is a student-led pantry, and, so, it's made up of mostly volunteers and work-study students."
Opening their doors back in September 21, 2015, Joelle tells us who founded it and why her vision was so important to help those in need.
“And so, Swoops Food Pantry was founded by Haley Moraniec--she's now MSW alumni. She started the pantry as an undergraduate, social work student. She found that food and security in college students was an issue that was not talked about at many colleges and universities. And, she felt it was her duty to do something to address the issue. So, with the support of the school's social work and EMU officials, she was able to make her vision a reality. So, we opened our doors on September 21, 2015. We started in Marshall--again, we're now over in Pierce."
Different from many other pantries or banks, Swoop's carries more than just food on their shelves.
"We carry both perishable and nonperishable foods. We also carry personal hygiene items, baby supplies--diapers, food, formula. We also have a big array of supplements, which we got from one of our community partners. And we also provide outside food and graduation gowns for commencement."
Obtaining theses goods and services is easy with a simple questionnaire form. You could be on your way to utizling these services.
"So, on our intake form, which we ask students to fill out once a year, we do ask about dietary restrictions, and we use that information to inform what we order and what we shop for. So, we try to keep options for students who are vegan or vegetarian, lactose intolerant, students with religious dietary needs. We try to make sure we have both items available. So the only eligibility requirement is that you are part of the EMU community. So, whether you are student, staff, or faculty, you are eligible to shop. We ask that you fill out an intake form, and that's done once a year. You can fill it out on our website, emich.edu/swoopspantry, or you can fill it out at the Swoop's Pantry. For our community members that we do see, we do what we call Serve and Refer--serve them once and refer them to food pantries in Washtenaw County."
Getting help or sometimes asking can be a challenge in itself, but, don’t worry. Everyone at Swoop's is there for you, building that fun, safe, family environment making you feel right at home.
"We do see quite a few students who are timid, that aren't sure if the pantry is for them, because there is a lot of stigma around food insecurity and receiving food assistance. And that's one of our fights at Swoop's. It's that we want to destigmatize that. There's nothing wrong with asking for help. And so, whether a student isn't struggling or whether they are struggling, Swoop's is for you--students helping students. And we want students to at least visit once. Swoop shoppers are allowed two visits per month, and we do allow a third emergency visit, whether your car breaks down, you lost a job, you have an emergency at home. We won't ask. We just ask that you e-mail us or let us know, so Swoop's can reach out to you."
Funded through donations only, this has not stopped Swoop's from serving their community and being that reliable pantry that many students can rely on in a time of need.
"We are 100% funded through donations. And so, one of our community partners, Fresh Time, has given us monetary donations for the past two years. We recently received a $20,000 grant from Kroger. And we also have a lot of EMU alum who are still tied to the university who love to give back. About half of our food, we do order from Food Gatherers--that is the big food bank in Washtenaw County. And then the other half, we receive as a donation from community partners like Fresh Time. We do shop at Kroger for a lot of our food. And we receive donations from student organizations and departments on campus as well. So our volunteers may be working in the pantry, and so, you get to see the day-to-day operations in the pantry. Some students help with our deliveries. We get those from Food Gatherers twice a month, so we need help unloading the truck if anything's away. We have special events that we need volunteers to help out at--flyering, getting the word out. We need volunteers for that sort of thing."
With the holidays coming up, many people may be in need, but do not worry--Swoop's has your back.
"We were actually gearing up for our Thanksgiving baskets in November and our holiday baskets in December. And so, with those events, 50 Swoop shoppers will receive a holiday basket, complete with turkey or ham, side dishes, and more."
In all, Swoop's Food Pantry is here for me, you, or any other student, staff, or faculty.
Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support. Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.