Illustration by Claudia Hernandez
When UTEP shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, the university’s food pantry was one of the few sites that remained operational due to the essential service it provides to students.
However, although the UTEP Food Pantry has remained open, its resources have been dwindling.
The food pantry was established in 2014 and it operated out a modest closet in the Union, but now it’s located at UTEP’s Memorial Gym which has been a more accessible location for students.
“Because we are more readily available for students to visit with this more ideal location, the higher traffic also means resources get depleted at a faster rate,” said Carmen Cossio, coordinator of student support for the dean of students and overseer of the food pantry. “While the volume of food is decreasing, the need has also increased due to the pandemic.
“With this higher need, where students were once visiting the pantry every two weeks, we’re allowing them to come in every week.”
The food pantry that has been dedicated to supporting the community is now turning to the community for support.
“Once our funds are exhausted, that becomes a very turbulent time for us because it means we don’t have much to offer the students or hours to sustain since we run on donations. We don’t know what the need is going to look like or what we’re going to receive so we have to be frugal to make our dollars stretch,” Cossio said. “We want to support our students as consistently as possible since sometimes this is their only source of sustenance; and though our offers have not been as assorted at times like these, we have yet to turn a student away.”
How the community can help
There are two ways to donate to the food pantry.
The first is visiting the pantry in person for a contactless experience which incorporates a plexiglass barrier and a system of jotting down what items you’re donating on paper and then passing those items to a staff member through the plexiglass.
Another recent alternative is through Amazon.com.
While the pantry is still accepting donations in person, students have been trying to cultivate new methods of adjusting to the changes brought on by the pandemic and came up with the idea of setting up an Amazon wish list.
The wish list allows Amazon Prime members to browse, purchase, and donate select non-perishable items, including food and toiletries, to be delivered directly to the food pantry with no additional cost for shipping.
“We’re excited to get people to become more aware of our services but also to donate,” Cossio said. “Shopping from home is a great way to help support the pantry while not interacting as much to decrease the risk of COVID.”
Miners Against Hunger have been staunch supporters of the food pantry and it is appearing that the community’s collective cooperation for the UTEP Food Pantry is set to grow exponentially. The El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank has plans to be in attendance of the food pantry’s next scheduled meeting on Sept. 25 with hopes of discussing a possible partnership.
“We would love the opportunity to partner with UTEP to support their pantry distribution.
There is a growing awareness of hunger on college campuses, nationwide the number is close to 47% food insecure on campus,” said Marty Otero, director of communications for El Pasoans Fighting Hunger. “By partnering with UTEP, we can directly serve their students that might be making the difficult decisions between buying food or other expenses.”
Though the need for resources has at times outweighed their availability, the food pantry hopes to continue offering resources to its community, especially during this unprecedented time. Cossio said the “ultimate goal is to ensure that we are able to provide enough food to keep our students focused on their academic success.”
Since the campus recent reopening, the food pantry has extended its hours on Wednesday to better accommodate late campus visitors. .
The pantry is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, but remains open until 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Cossio also assures that if these hours don’t necessarily align with a student’s schedule, they are welcomed to contact the pantry to try and arrange a more fitting alternative.
The food pantry’s Amazon Wish List can be accessed on amazon.com.
Sasha Minjarez may be reached at [email protected]