By Kelly Scheper
The Shop @ TCNJ, the College’s new food pantry located in Campus Town, holds a lot of necessities — shelves of non-perishable foods and toiletries, reusable bags for students to grab what they need and a coffee table full of apples and water.
But perhaps the most important resource is the volunteer work by students at the College.
According to Beth Gallus, the College’s Associate Dean of Students, about 30 to 40 percent of students at the College have had some level of food insecurity in the past 30 days. The Shop @ TCNJ opened on Feb. 25 to accommodate hungry students with donations from peers, faculty and the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank.
Each week, students at the College such as Alana Adams, a junior public health and communication studies double major, volunteer at the pantry to sort the donations and welcome other students to take as much as they need.
“It feels really great that even if the program’s so new, that it’s making a difference already,” Adams said. “It feels really great to be a part of that and just knowing that clients can come back if they are in need. I feel like it provides a safe space for them to do that and just to get food.”
Open on Mondays from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., The Shop @ TCNJ has seen a wide range of students benefit from the pantry’s supply.
Naja Lopez, a freshman sociology and pre-med double major and pantry volunteer, was inspired by an international student, who was hesitant about taking items from the pantry at first. By the end of her visit, the student was satisfied with her experience The Shop @TCNJ, and later came back with a friend.
“I think it gave me perspective on certain people because you will get people who might take advantage of the facility or not need it, but just want it,” Lopez said. “But then you will get people who actually need it, like this girl, and really appreciate it and use it in a way that’s respectful to the facility.”
Horacio Hernandez (’18), a public health graduate student, was encouraged to volunteer after he learned about how significant of an issue food insecurity is.
“I personally didn’t think this was a big issue in college,” Hernandez said. “But now doing research and working hands-on with this project, I’ve come to realize this is a prevalent issue not only in our community, but other communities across the U.S.”
But the students’ jobs don’t stop when they leave the pantry — they also work toward normalizing pantry attendance among their peers and spreading the word about the resource.
Lopez and Adams agreed that it’s a tough subject to normalize on social media. Lopez noted how difficult it can be to overcome the stigma behind attending food pantries since many don’t want to project their socioeconomic status to the community.
“I think someone who genuinely needs the help and doesn’t have the means to feed themselves is probably scared to get the help,” Lopez said. “It can get around that you are of a low socioeconomic class, which then can create this stigma and air around you.”
In terms of attracting attention via social media, Adams hopes to create a larger online media presence for The Shop @ TCNJ by creating a resource link on the TCNJ Cares page. Through this page, students can anonymously refer those on campus who may be struggling.
Through the dedication of each of its volunteers, Hernandez is hopeful that the pantry’s influence will expand.
“It won’t be fixed overnight,” he said. “But the Shop is one step forward to getting to that future of not having food insecurity, in not just the college environment but in any type of environment in the U.S.”