Food Pantry Gets Helping Hand from KSU Police to Aid Students

Staff Report From Metro Atlanta CEO

Friday, May 15th, 2020

Although the building housing Kennesaw State’s food pantry has been closed for several weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, KSU’s Campus Awareness, Resource and Empowerment (CARE) Services found a resourceful way to provide food to the rising number of off-campus students in need.

CARE turned to their campus community partners and the one place at the Kennesaw Campus that is open 24/7: University Police headquarters.

Since mid-March, University Police headquarters has served as the distribution point for students to pick up boxes of food on the Kennesaw Campus, and CARE has a similar arrangement with Housing and Residence Life for the Marietta Campus. Food pantry staff package and deliver the food boxes to those distribution points so they can be safely delivered to students.

Also, CARE has been able to continue providing grocery store gift cards to students, by distributing them virtually. The gift cards, funded by CARE donors, are given to students with needs beyond what can be met with a pre-packaged box of food, such as those lacking transportation, having dietary restrictions or being limited in access to community resources.

“Obviously the logistics have changed a little bit, but this is part of our year-around commitment to come together and support each other when our students and the community are in need,” said C.J. Dickens of University Police’s Community Outreach, Recruitment and Engagement (CORE) unit. “It’s just being part of the bigger community here at KSU. Our approach is, this is the need right now, so what do we need to do to help?”

Reaching students was a key challenge for the food pantry as CARE staff saw the rise in pantry visits in the days leading up to remote instruction and shelter-in-place mandates. CARE typically averages five to 15 student visits per day during the spring semester and has continued to serve 10 to 15 students a week under the new delivery system, according to program coordinator Carrie Olsen. That has included a few spikes in requests, such as 20 students asking for food boxes in just one day following KSU’s spring break, and 59 students visiting the CARE Services food pantry – more than double the previous single-day high – on the Thursday prior to Kennesaw State transitioning fully to remote learning,

A student seeking assistance can contact CARE Services, which then schedules an appointment for the student to pick up a 20-pound box of food at the University Police headquarters. A police officer, wearing protective gear, gives the food box to the student and offers to carry it to the student’s car. The food distributions are carried out by a rotation of only three officers, in order to limit the number of people interacting with the public in compliance with social distancing guidelines.

“Without this partnership, I’m not sure how we would be serving our students through the pantry at this time,” Olsen said. “We continue to have a number of students requesting assistance each week, and without the efforts of University Police we would be forced to serve students in a much more limited capacity.”

Continuing to receive support from CARE has been vital for Kennesaw State student Phoebe Sanders, who said she normally visits the food pantry every week. Sanders explained that she battles an eating disorder, and one of her doctors expressed concern that her difficulty with affording groceries could lead to Sanders restricting herself from food.

“I’m so grateful that KSU Police has agreed to work with CARE students so we can continue to utilize the pantry,” said Sanders, a junior majoring in middle grades education. “I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t able to continue to get groceries.”

University Police will continue to serve as CARE Services’ food distribution point for as long as needed, Dickens said. He added that this ties perfectly with the CORE unit’s mission to be proactive in building a university community that works together and thrives.

“The KSU community has to help our students with more than just getting good grades,” Dickens said.

“When our officers see the students come in, it makes us all feel very appreciative and grateful that we’re able to be here for them and they have a place to come,” said University Police Deputy Chief Trudi Vaughan. “We all share that sense of it.”