Spartan Food Pantry Celebrates One Year of Service at SJSU

Food Pantry employees in blue aprons.

Alexandra Gerrick, CAPS counselor and chair of the Student Hunger Committee, Cat Fillmore, CAPS Clinical Case Manager, Tania Moran Hernandez, Marjourie Quintanilla, Aseem Chhabra, Marko Mohlenhoff, Student Affairs Case Manager and Ben Falter, Sr. Student Affairs Case Manager at the Spartan Food Pantry. Photo: David Schmitz.

On March 25, the Spartan Food Pantry recognized its first full year of service at San Jose State. The pantry was established as an expansion of SJSU’s commitment to supporting students who are experiencing food insecurity, and is a partnership between SJSU Cares, Second Harvest of Silicon Valley (SHSV) and individual donations. According to monthly data collected on the SJSU Cares website, there have been more than 18,880 SJSU student visits between March 2019 and January 2020 and approximately 24,000 visits since the pantry opened its doors. The pantry has served 4,900 unique visitors, 48 percent of whom visit it weekly.

The pantry, located in the Diaz Compean Student Union with an exterior entrance across from the Engineering Building rotunda, is set up like a grocery store. Eligible students can “shop” through six zones including fresh produce, chilled items, dry goods and toiletries. Once students complete the Spartan Food Pantry intake and agreement form, eligible students can stop in once every calendar week for groceries.

Though the Spartan Food Pantry is a valuable resource year-round, it provides an especially critical service during the COVID-19 health pandemic. Even with in-person classes suspended, all SJSU Cares, case management, and Spartan Food Pantry operations are still available. As of March 2020, the pantry has had to move from a “shopping” model to a “distribution” model where students can receive pre-packaged items while maintaining updated protocol regarding social distance when picking up food. Since Santa Clara County issued its “shelter-in-place” mandate on March 17, there have been approximately 900 visits to the pantry.

“Every day, and especially during times like this, it’s so fortunate to be in a job where the work I do lets me connects students with resources, in some cases almost immediately, and the pantry is the clearest example of that,” said Marko Mohlenhoff, student affairs case manager of SJSU Cares. “The pantry is the most accessible resource to the greatest number of students. The COVID-19 crisis is affecting many people’s employment and directly increasing the level of need with many students. How fortunate that we can offer this pantry to our students.”

Over the past year, Second Harvest has donated nearly a quarter million pounds of food to the Spartan Food Pantry, according to Ben Falter, SJSU behavioral intervention chair and senior student affairs case manager. Of that, the pantry received more than 70,500 pounds of fresh produce—resources that are often hard to find in community and college food banks. These numbers do not include donations of food, toiletries and hygiene items from SJSU’s Community Garden, as well as SJSU staff, faculty, students and the San Jose community at large, including churches and mosques.

“The first anniversary of the Spartan Food Pantry represents a key milestone in SJSU’s efforts to ensure every student has the resources and support they need to succeed,” said Interim Associate Vice President for Student Services Catherine Voss Plaxton. “Now a recognized fixture on campus, the Pantry offers not only nutritious food to resolve a student’s immediate need for food assistance, but also an entry point to comprehensive services to resolve ongoing basic needs concerns. I am so proud of the work of the SJSU Cares staff and the Economic Crisis Response Team, whose motivation to care for students led us to realize this anniversary.”

“Like many people, I see the offering of food as a symbol of care. Every time I’m at the pantry, I see a line of students getting connected to food—a basic need—and know that we are supporting them getting to graduation,” said Falter. “I’m very proud of the way our team has engaged students to increase the use of fresh produce which is vital to good nutrition when you are experiencing food insecurity ”

Updates are posted regularly on social media at @SJSUFoodPantry on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.