Junior public biology pioneer Danielle Edwards began volunteering at the School Street Food Pantry in 2021 to help students like her access food and personal care items.
“It has given me the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and become a resource for other students,” Edwards said. “I want to connect with them and share my story with them to help anyone.”
Edwards, along with the pantry’s advisory board made up of community members, church members, Illinois State faculty, staff, and students, serves more than 100 visitors per week at the School Street Food Pantry, located at Normal First United Methodist Church at 211 N. School St. in Normal.
Doris Groves, 81, co-chair of the School Street Food Pantry, said she is retiring after 17 years working at the university.
The pantry is available to any college student in the Bloomington-Normal area who is food insecure. They can shop for food and personal care items for free.
Along with partners including the Midwest Food Bank and Eastern Illinois Food Bank, Illinois State University is among the many local organizations working to combat food insecurity.
Groves said that some people incorrectly believe that just because a student can afford to go to college, they can afford food. One of Groves’ goals is to continue to spread awareness about food insecurity.
“The last thing I would like to see is someone leaving university and not completing their academic program because they can’t afford food,” she said.
Groves said the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced Street Food Pantry School volunteers to change the way they work and distribute items.
“In the early months of the pandemic, we packed bags for students to take away and there were limited food options for students to take home. With additional processes in place, like face masks and social distancing, we were able to reopen the pantry for shopping in fall 2020,”
Since August 2021, School Street Food Pantry has served over 750 individual students. Now, Groves and her team are working out the next steps for the store.
“We have more awareness about the community and more word of mouth among the students,” she said. “I think we always have more to do, but since opening in the fall of 2018, we have increased the ways we are efficient and effective.”
Students, including Edwards, help Groves fulfill the School Street Food Pantry’s mission – to raise awareness about food insecurity and other social challenges affecting student health and well-being.
Edwards now serves on the School Street Food Pantry Board as a Community Engagement Coordinator helping to organize food drives and partnering with organizations for donations.
Edwards said she loves being a part of the store because she influences decisions to increase the store’s influence.
Although the store closed in December during part of the university’s winter break, Groves said students can still pick up bags of food at the Illinois State University Police Department.
“We are working closely with the State of Illinois and with the Department of Student Affairs so that students experiencing food insecurity during recess can obtain healthy food by contacting the ISU Police Department,” Groves said.
In addition to food donations, Groves said the pantry is also in need of personal care items.
“The store is a welcoming and respectful place,” she said. “We’re here to help students succeed – that’s where our joy comes from and where we find so much camaraderie among the students who volunteer and shop.”
The store is open for distribution to students from 4 to 6 pm every Friday throughout the school year. Cash, food, and personal care donations are accepted. More information is available at the School Street Food Pantry website.