For University students who feel that healthy food is not accessible, the University of Michigan Food Pantry seeks to provide all those in need with nutritious options — free of charge.
The organization distributed food at the First Baptist Church on East Washington Street on Wednesday. Business junior Forest Burczak and Business sophomore Wesley Zhu launched the initiative last semester as part of their involvement in Enactus, a social entrepreneurship club that develops students’ business skills with a focus on providing value and sustainability to the community.
“(The Food Pantry) is open to all U of M students; some other people come in who aren’t students as well, but it’s not like we turn anybody away,” Burczak said. “Predominantly, we want to help students who think they’re having a hard time accessing fresh groceries either because of money or because of traveling to the grocery store.”
The Food Pantry currently distributes food once per month but hopes to gain enough student participation to hold food distributions every two weeks.
Last semester, Burczak and Zhu led a project team to plan the student-run food pantry. The group created surveys to determine demand for food among University students and then pitched their project idea to Food Gatherers, a Washtenaw County food bank that donates to local nonprofits.
The team’s initial idea was to distribute food to the homeless. Over time, however, project members instead saw a need for a food pantry dedicated to serving University students.
Burczak said project members reached out to RAs of graduate student living facilities on North Campus, asking them to make their residents aware of the food pantry as a resource. He added that many students in these dorms must feed not only themselves, but families as well.
Student Food Co., a student-run produce stand, helped advertise the Food Pantry during its opening stage. Ultimately, Burczak said, Enactus plans to permanently transfer management of the Food Pantry to Student Food Co.
The task of collecting and distributing food, however, is not as simple as it may seem.
LSA sophomore Anna Kierner, a member of the Food Pantry, took classes through ServSafe, which provides food safety and distribution training as well as certification in Southeastern Michigan.
“You need a specific type of certification in order to handle food safely and help make sure that you’re not making the food that you pass on to people unsafe for them to eat,” Kierner said.
One of Kierner’s jobs is to ensure the food that the pantry distributes meets state safety regulations. For example, she helps package produce to make sure juices from certain foods do not leak onto others, which can foster the growth of bacteria. She also inspects foods for mold and other potentially hazardous signs.
“I just encourage anyone that’s a student to come here and get food regardless of if you’re financially struggling or not because fresh fruits and vegetables can be really difficult for students to afford, especially if you’re not part of the dining hall system,” Kierner said.