Community Food Shelves Help Students With Food Insecurities During COVID-19

Gail Fox is the unpaid manager (and unsung hero) of the Campus Cupboard, a program of Crossroads Lutheran Ministry located next to the Performing Arts Building. The Campus Cupboard has been serving students of since 2015. Its mission is to provide healthy and nutritious food to those who attend Minnesota State University, Mankato and require assistance to place adequate food on their tables. In 2019, the Campus Cupboard served 1,722 clients and gave out 20,144 pounds of food including a small amount of toiletries.

How is the Campus Cupboard supported?

GAIL: “Our budget for purchase of food from Second Harvest Heartland, the food bank, is provided by Lutheran Campus Ministries which is supported by area ELCA churches. Campus Cupboard also relies on the generous contributions from Mankato ELCA churches, individuals, university organizations, and other groups in our community such as the Kiwanis Holiday Lights to help stock our shelves and fill our freezers with healthy nutritious food.  We occasionally get produce from perishable produce if ECHO has surplus.

GAIL: “During 2019, we accepted 3,684 pounds in donations. A little more than one third, 1404 pounds, was donated during a fundraiser by Minnesota State Mankato student government after challenging Winona to see who could raise the most for their respective food shelves.  Our students won the competition but it was a definite win for Campus Cupboard.”

Has your inventory changed since COVID-19?

GAIL: “We are getting our food from our usual sources with the addition of emergency food boxes. We have gotten a  few donations from people and organizations associated with the University as well as area churches.  We can always use donations especially to cover purchases of fresh produce and dairy. Toilet paper and other toiletries and laundry pods are always welcome as we have to use our budget to cover food. ”  

Has student use of the Campus Cupboard changed in recent weeks?

GAIL: “We have noticed a drop in usage from around 75 clients per week to around 35-40 since the campus has closed.  Note that is still a significant increase from normal “break” usage compare to last summer which was between 12-18.”

When and how does the Campus Cupboard operate?

GAIL: “If students have not filled out the form to receive food through this program they need to talk to me on Tuesdays when they come. As I need a phone number to text them if we need to implement this program.

“We normally are open Tuesdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.   Students are allowed to choose what they want and can get a much as will fit into their own reusable shopping bag.  The range is from 1.6 to 35 pounds.  Married students who are both students can get two bags, people can assign another person to pick up for them if they are unable.”  

Does Campus Cupboard respond to off-hours requests?

GAIL: “At this time we are only open on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. but an emergency number is posted on the door of the building.  It is my personal phone number at this time which is 218-731-5597, they must ONLY text me.” 

“I will then text or call them back to arrange a time to get food. This is only for the first time, if they are totally out of food or absolutely cannot come at the normal time.”  

How are you staying safe?

GAIL: “We are practicing social distancing the best we can. We have a plan in place to  pre-pack  food if the numbers in Mankato start becoming alarming high. If we have the supplies and find a need we will be flexible to meet needs as they arise. Students can find us on Facebook or the Crossroads web site.”

Does the Campus Cupboard plan to remain open?

GAIL: “As long as I stay COVID free I  will be doing all I can to feed students in need.”   

Any other information of importance?

GAIL:If we have the supplies and find a need we will be flexible to meet needs as they arise. Students can find us on Facebook or the Crossroads web site.  We have information on SNAP and tell students about ECHO.  International students do not qualify for SNAP but can get food at food shelves.”  

Jesse Spencer is the Social Worker at South Central College. He manages a pantry that addresses basic student needs. Up until March 31 when the Campus Kitchen closed as part of the campus shutdown, SCC was a partner for Campus Kitchen, distributing the bread we harvested from Panera and Gustavus Adolphus College.

How are food pantries being supplied during COVID-19, is supply meeting demand?

JESSE: The SCC Campus Cupboard has a partnership with Second Harvest Heartland. We purchase our food supply from them. Thus far, our supply is adequate to meet student demand.

Are services continuing as normal? Please list any new times, locations, restrictions?

JESSE: Yes, our services are still available to students, but our delivery model has changed. We are asking students to place their food order through an online form, then we fill the order and they pick it up curbside. They can order and pick up one time per week.

Have you seen an increase in need among students due to COVID-19 closures/stay-at-home directives?

JESSE: We have not seen any increase in demand to this point.

What do you see as items of greatest need among students/pantry users since COVID-19?

JESSE: We have had some students ask about the availability of toilet paper and other household essentials but we do not carry many of these items. We have laundry detergent and shampoo and conditioner, but that is about the extent of non-food items available.

What source of food items can students expect to find/receive?

JESSE: We have a wide variety of dry goods including canned and boxed items, meal kits, some frozen meats and meals, refrigerated items like cheese slices, butter, and tortillas, and fresh produce.”

How much food can a student receive at one time? How often can they restock?

JESSE: A student can shop one time per week and we limit the initial visit to one shopping basket per student. If there is higher need we allow a student to have more items and then also have a conversation about accessing the community food shelf or other food resources such as Fare for All, free breakfast at Holy Grounds, or applying for the SNAP program.

How can students find out more about food assistance in the Mankato area (pantry locations, websites, phone listing, etc)

JESSE: They can meet with the social worker or other support staff to get this information or for help applying for services or they can also get this info on our website at

Other comments you may have to assist students at this time of need.

JESSE: Due to the COVID 19 outbreak, our model of service delivery has changed, but our commitment to student success and well-being has not.

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