For some students, attending college can be a daunting experience. Add to that a shortage of finances for basic needs like food, and the problems can seem insurmountable.
Northeastern State University’s Greek organizations want students to feel like they’re part of a community in which people help one another, even in the roughest of times. The RiverHawk Food Pantry is one way to demonstrate that attitude.
Located in the basement of the University Center, the pantry offers students nutritional assistance for themselves and any dependents they may have.
“The idea came about from Dr. Laura Boren, vice president of Student Affairs, and Sara Johnson, coordinator of student activities,” said Helen Lahrman, coordinator of Greek life and Community Engagement at NSU. “They conducted a study and met with people from the University of Arkansas Food Pantry, and the information they gained solidified the fact that NSU needed a resource like this.”
Lahrman was hired in June 2013, and the pantry opened its doors that September.
“So far, it’s been used by about 70 students and has benefited about 150 people, as many of those students have dependents,” said Lahrman. “I love helping fight food insecurity. When we looked at the numbers, we found that one student indicated they experienced going without meals at least six to 10 times per month. Thanks to the pantry, we’re helping to reduce those numbers.”
The pantry comprises 132 square feet of space, with six heavy-duty shelving units that store, on average, over 10,000 pounds of non-perishable food items and personal hygiene products. The pantry is open to any current NSU student, and can be visited once a week.
A secondary project held last fall, the Food Basket Frenzy, provided baskets containing everything needed to prepare full Thanksgiving meals for 80 students and community members.
“The pantry is run entirely by students,” said Lahrman. “It has a governing council comprised of five students, who work with businesses and corporate sponsors and plan food drives, etc. They are also responsible for overseeing the pantry volunteers, who are also students.”
The pantry is open two days per week: Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to noon, and Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m.
“It really shows students what a college is,” said Lahrman. “It’s about helping each other, and that everyone is equal. I think it’s very impactful for everyone involved. But the students make this happen, I’m just here to help.”
Lahrman credits NSU student Ethan Hayman as the person responsible for bringing the pantry idea to fruition.
“Without him and his dedication, it would not have happened,” said Lahrman. “He’s been a real inspiration, and we’re helping as many people as we can.”
According to Lahrman, there are no income guidelines for students seeking assistance.
“We ask a few income questions, but we don’t want to turn students away as long as we have supplies,” said Lahrman.
NSU participating organizations include Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, Northeastern Activities Board, Inter-Fraternity Council, Panhellenic Council, Athletics and Auxiliary Services.
Every year, Lambda Chi Alpha hosts a citywide food drive, the proceeds of which are donated to the Tahlequah CARE Food Pantry. Now, they go to the RiverHawk Food Pantry.
“We’ve visited with the CARE Food Pantry people,” said Lahrman. “We don’t have much space here, and any larger items, excess and bulk products are donated to them. We try to partner with them, and I think that relationship will grow and prosper in the future.”
CARE Food Pantry coordinator Rebecca Baughman said they have received items from the RiverHawk Pantry.
“We’ve gotten some big, institutional-sized canned good from them, which we generally can’t use, but if I can I pass them along to Feed My Sheep,” said Baughman. “[In 2012], Lambda Chi Alpha collected about 25,000 pounds of food for us during the food drive. Last year, they collected about 13,000 pounds. The fraternity is really good about dividing things up and choosing the best-suited items for the clients of each pantry.”
Baughman confessed she was a little concerned when NSU opened its own food pantry.
“We were really concerned when they started, but I think the people who support the NSU pantry don’t necessarily support us, and vice versa,” said Baughman. “I think it’s a good thing they’re working to help people not go hungry. It’s a movement nationwide to have food pantries at college campuses.”
To make a donation or find out more about the NSU RiverHawk Food Pantry, contact Helen Lahrman, coordinator of Greek life and Community Engagement, at (918) 444-2644.