Junior general biology major Danielle Edwards started volunteering at the School Street Food Pantry in 2021 to help students like herself gain access to food and personal care items.
“It gave me the opportunity to meet likeminded individuals and become a resource for other students, Edwards said. “I want to connect and share my story with them to help anyone.”
Edwards, along with the pantry’s advisory board consisting of community members, church members, Illinois State faculty, staff, and students, serves more than 100 weekly visitors at the School Street Food Pantry, located in Normal First United Methodist Church at 211 N. School St. in Normal.
“Some students will use the pantry every week, some will come during the beginning of the semester when they’re experiencing extra costs, and some may come periodically,” said Doris Groves ’81, School Street Food Pantry co-chair, who is retired following a 17-year career at the University.
The pantry is available for any college student in the Bloomington-Normal area who is experiencing food insecurity. They can shop for food and personal care items at no charge.
Along with partners including Midwest Food Bank and Eastern Illinois Food Bank, Illinois State University is among the many local organizations that work to combat food insecurity.
Groves said some people incorrectly believe that just because a student can afford to attend college, they can afford food. One of Groves’ goals is to continue spreading awareness about food insecurity.
“The last thing I would want to see is someone leaving the University and not completing their academic program because they couldn’t afford food,” she said.
Groves said the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced School Street Food Pantry volunteers to change how they functioned and distributed items.
“In the initial months of the pandemic, we packed bags for students to pick up and there were limited food choices that students could make. With additional processes in place, like face masks and social distancing, we were able to reopen the pantry for shopping in fall 2020,” she said.
Since August 2021, School Street Food Pantry has served over 750 individual students. Now, Groves and her team are working to determine next steps for the pantry.
“We have greater awareness around the community and more word of mouth among the students,” she said. “I think we always have more to do, but since opening in fall 2018, we have increased the ways in which we are efficient and effective.”
Students, including Edwards, help Groves fulfill School Street Food Pantry’s mission—to raise awareness about food insecurity and other social challenges that impact student health and well-being.
Edwards now serves on the School Street Food Pantry board as a community engagement coordinator to help organize food drives and partner with organizations to obtain donations.
Edwards said she likes being a part of the pantry because she gets to influence decisions to grow the pantry’s impact.
Although the pantry is closed in December during part of the University’s winter break, Groves said students can still pick up bags of food at Illinois State University’s Police Department.
“We work closely with Illinois State and with the Division of Student Affairs so that students experiencing food insecurity during the holiday break can still have access to healthy food by contacting ISU’s Police Department,” said Groves.
In addition to food donations, Groves said the pantry is also in need of personal care items.
“The pantry is a welcoming and respectful place,” she said. “We’re here to help students be successful—that’s where our joy comes from and where we find a lot of camaraderie among the students who volunteer and shop.”
The pantry is open for distribution to students from 4–6 p.m. each Friday throughout the school year. Monetary donations, food, and personal care donations are accepted. More information is available on the School Street Food Pantry’s website.