TEMPE, AZ — It is the time of year when food pantries across Arizona are slammed with families needing help for the holidays. At Arizona State University, a group of student volunteers is working hard to make sure fellow college students don't go hungry during the winter break.
Maureen McCoy, a faculty advisor with Pitchfork Pantry, a student-run food pantry on campus, says a student survey completed a few years ago surprised them when 35 percent of students reported feeling "food insecure" at ASU.
"That means they don't know where their next meal is going to come from," said McCoy.
The number was also higher than the national average of college students who reported food insecurity; thus, the idea of Pitchfork Pantry was born. The pantry is located at both ASU campuses in Tempe and downtown Phoenix.
"Anyone who needs food in any capacity can get food," said McCoy.
All that is required is a student ID and a voluntary brief demographic form a student could fill out, unlike other community-based pantries that require income verification or other lengthy forms.
Jessica Antonio, an ASU student getting three degrees, was one of many students who have used Pitchfork Pantry.
Antonio said while it was hard for her to ask for help, the pressures of school, the lack of a job, and a disability forced her to take that step.
"When I got into a car accident, I really had to ask for help. I was crawling to the restroom at the time. I couldn't sleep on a bed or a couch, I'd sleep on my knees," said Antonio.
With no family in town to support her, Antonio said she saw the sign for Pitchfork Pantry one day while walking to class, so she decided to find out what it was all about."I was able to learn that it's actually a food bank, they do have food here," said Antonio.
Antonio is not only just getting help there, but she's also giving back by volunteering. She joined several students as they worked to put care packages together for fellow students who had signed up for one, to get them through the month-long winter break.
"To be able to give them food while we're closed is a big thing," said Antonio.
Boxes consisted of peanut butter, tuna, ramen noodles, canned vegetables, and fruits, along with other dry goods.
McCoy said right now, the health department had only given them the green light to distribute non-perishable items.
The pantry volunteers held cooking classes for students to teach them healthy ways to cook the items they were given. Ramen noodles were a hot favorite among students.
"Use half the packet of sodium, never use the full pack as that's where all the bad stuff comes from," said Hannah Rater, a Pitchfork Pantry volunteer.
The big challenge was getting the word out. McCoy said they hoped to see increased traffic into the pantry by getting the word out and holding pop-up tent events in busy parts of ASU's campus so they could be more visible. The pantry was serving only about a dozen students a week. McCoy said they knew there was a bigger need out there, so they hoped to connect with more students.
McCoy said they estimate between 800-1,000 students get help at the Pitchfork Pantry on both campuses each year.If you'd like to donate to Pitchfork Pantry or partner with them, you can check them out on Facebook or by clicking here.