Despite earning two pitchfork awards, Pitchfork Pantry will permanently close at the end of semester

The pantry, which opened in January, supplied canned food to ASU students in need

Despite winning multiple honors at this year's Pitchfork Awards, the Pitchfork Pantry, a student-run organization providing food to ASU students in need, will permanently close at the end of this semester.

The pantry, run by the ASU Student Anti-Hunger Coalition, opened for the first time this January, focusing on addressing student hunger on campus. The University, however, has prevented the pantry from operating on multiple occasions, according to members of the Coalition.

Pitchfork Pantry was awarded the Changemaker Award for Social Change and also took home the Most Promising New Student Organization award at the Pitchfork Awards last Wednesday. During the ceremony, pantry founder Stephanie Kaufmann announced that the pantry was closing, saying ASU isn't allowing the organization to continue.

“Pitchfork Pantry has been highly successful in terms of gaining food and engaging the community,” Kaufmann said. “But we are facing issues and our research has not been enough to sway ASU into letting us operate.”

Meg Bruening, an assistant professor in the College of Health Solutions, worked closely with Kaufmann to open the pantry after conducting her own study of hunger on campus. Her research showed that food insecurity was prevalent on the ASU campuses, with 32 percent of students reporting inconsistent access to food.

Kaufmann said that the pantry has faced problems throughout this semester with the university, including preventing pantry openings and food collections.

“For a brief period of time we were not allowed to open at all because university officials felt that this initiative was not well thought out or was not as impactful as it needed to be,” Kaufmann said. “At meetings, they did talk about initiatives that ASU is doing to address the issue of hunger on campus.”

She said the pantry has already faced detriment by being barred from opening at different times throughout the semester.

“Food expires, and there was a good two months that we couldn’t serve food,” Kaufmann said. “We had to consistently check our shelves and food had to be thrown away. That’s food that could have gone to actual students.”

At first, Kaufmann said, Pitchfork Pantry was told to shut down because they were breaking the Arizona Food Code. She said after the Coalition ensured they weren't breaking the code, ASU officials recognized the pantry as a food establishment, requiring the facility to have a bathroom, a three-tiered sink for sanitation and a mop sink.

“This led us to believe they hadn’t visited our space, because our Tempe location has carpet floors, so we don’t use a mop or need a mop sink,” she said. She also said that since the pantry was serving canned foods, which are exempt from the code because they are hermetically sealed, and had a bathroom around the corner, these requirements were being met to the best of the ability of the pantry.

Eventually ASU officials stopped pressing the issue, Kaufmann said, but then stated the pantry could not run due to its location in Sonora, a dorm on the Tempe campus. Kaufmann said the university argued that students could not sufficiently access the pantry, however, Sonora grants access to all ASU students who check in at the front desk.

James Rund, vice president of educational outreach and student services, said these were all "technical issues related to the operation of the pantry," but the reason for closing the pantry was based on discussion of the pantry's future.

“We want to have a broader discussion going forward about how the university can be of best support to students,” Rund said. “We want to solve financial concerns, not just give them food when they are hungry.”

Rund said the goals of the pantry are immediately important, but don’t solve the problem long-term and that ASU officials would rather focus on working with students in need by adjusting their financial circumstances.

“If there is a way for us to partner with the food pantry or a modified version of the pantry to better communicate the issue while helping students with their immediate needs, that would be the optimum moving forward,” he said.

Kaufmann said none of the problems brought forward by ASU officials were addressed prior to the opening of the pantry in January.

“They did say that we are not addressing the issue from the ground up,” Kaufmann said.

She said that ASU suggested the whole mission of the pantry be changed from helping college students to assisting the Tempe community as a whole.

“For us, that’s something we’d like to grow to, to serve the community,” Kaufmann said, “But college students are our real concern, because that’s what our data is showing, and we want to serve our own students before we try to expand.”

Although Rund said the institution’s point of view would have Pitchfork Pantry aim to serve the needs of the greater Tempe community, Kaufmann said this may not be possible if the pantry does not first address the issue at hand.

Despite the success of the pantry and the efforts of the ASU Student Anti-Hunger Collation to keep the pantry running, Kaufmann said the future does not look as bright.

“We were constantly turning students away as they came, which is disappointing for our reputation as well,” she said. “At one point, we were told we couldn’t collect food so we had to refuse donations as well.”

ASU Student Anti-Hunger Collation director of outreach, Nico De Bruyn, said the pantry team had a chance to build relationships with the community and local leaders in the beginning, but that those relationships are now in jeopardy.

“They really supported us, and we had a lot of food donations from other pantries,” De Bruyn said. “Closing the pantry now would really hinder our relationships with them if we were to try and start it once again in the future.”

De Bruyn and Kaufmann said that ASU showed support for the pantry initially, but meetings held with ASU officials to find a solution and keep the pantry open have not yielded much success.

“The University has good intentions, but it just seems like they want us to jump through a lot of hoops,” Kaufmann said. “It’s going to take a while to rebuild our momentum if we can find a way to reopen.”

Though the students have done a great job running the pantry and a terrific job fighting for it, ASU already has a way to help students financially whereas the surrounding community doesn't have access to those resources, Rund said.  

“It would be a terrific gesture on part of the University to launch a large scale effort to help them,” Rund said. “I have the highest regard for Stephanie. She has left a legacy of service to ASU students. I only applaud her efforts.”


Reach the reporter at johannalovett26@gmail.com or follow @johannavlovett on Twitter.

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