As Athens continues to face the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio University’s Cats’ Cupboard has been serving the school’s community by providing food and personal care items to over 185 students and faculty.
The number of people visiting the pantry has risen since the coronavirus hit Athens County.
During a typical semester, about 400 individuals visit the pantry, who all average about five visits each. Now, people are visiting the pantry as frequently as every two weeks. Students and faculty members at OU are easily able to sign up to receive pantry items by filling out an online form.
The coronavirus has led to some complications for the pantry, food pantry employee Kaitlyn Mangan-Hitchcock said. Students can’t just walk in at any time to pick up items like canned goods or menstrual products.
“Usually (the students) would be able to swipe in with their OHIO ID and pick out up to 15 items of their choice for free,” Mangan-Hitchcock said in an email. “Now that we are in a pandemic, things have changed a little bit. The pantry is still open in person, but people do have to schedule a time to pick up food or donate.”
After choosing a date to visit the pantry, students can come to the fifth-floor location in Baker on their selected date and pick up their food in pre-packaged bags. These bags, put together by employees like Mangan-Hitchcock, are primarily stocked with items donated by local community members or organizations.
Donations are what keeps Cats’ Cupboard up and running. The pantry receives donations on a weekly basis, OHIO Basic Needs Program graduate assistant Sarah Gaskell said. According to the OU website, donated items are collected outside of the Baker Maggie Davis Room on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon.
“We are very cautious when working with the pantry,” Gaskell said in an email. “Our workers wear masks and use gloves in between student pick-ups and when we touch produce … We have a produce cart (where) we let (students) choose what they would like, but we don’t let them touch the produce and instead let us know what they want (so that) we can grab it for them while wearing gloves. We try to keep it as hands-off as possible.”
While the pantry has prioritized cleanliness, recently it’s been focusing on helping students in need -- specifically, international students. An international students task force developed this past summer for international students who were in Athens and couldn’t return home due to the virus.
Many international students were out of a job or had canceled internships. The task force helped raise awareness in the community and fortunately increased the number of donations the pantry received. Assistant Dean Kathy Fahl explained that raising awareness about food insecurity, especially during the pandemic, is critical.
“Typically, when we’re on campus, student organizations are big drivers of food drives, and they’ll host food drives, and that’s how we get a lot of food,” Fahl said. “Well, those groups aren’t here, and so we really are dependent on our community organizations and our community members to donate, and they’ve been really stepping up to support our students.”
Fahl said that for some students and faculty members, Cats’ Cupboard makes an incredible difference. In a survey this summer, Fahl asked food pantry users if the pantry alleviated stress in their lives. The overwhelming responses revealed that many rely on the pantry to ensure that they don’t have to skip meals, or to put money toward paying bills instead of groceries.
“It pains me to think some of our students don’t have enough food to eat,” Fahl said. “That’s really hard to bare, and so it really does feel good to support students in that way … We’re making a difference.”