On Tuesday, Sept. 27, staff and volunteers at the University of Colorado Boulder handed out boxes of food to local community members on the University Memorial Center South Terrace Plaza. This monthly mobile food pantry, hosted by the new CU Boulder Basic Needs Center, is the first one of the fall semester.
CU Boulder students, staff and faculty, as well as Broomfield and Boulder community members, lined up around the south side of the UMC with boxes and bags, grabbing up to 30 pounds of food each. In total, 297 community members came to pick up food.
“[This initiative] is part of what colleges and universities are doing around the country to ensure that students have access to basic needs support,” said Hannah Wilks, the director of the Volunteer Resource Center and the Basic Needs Center at CU Boulder. “So that’s not something you have to deal with while you’re trying to navigate taking classes and graduating.”
Food assistance programs like the mobile food pantries fall under the Feed the Stampede program, which provides food and housing support and educational resources for the Boulder community. In April 2020, Feed the Stampede started running weekly mobile food pantries for the summer in response to high rates of unemployment in the Boulder community due to the pandemic. Community members drove up to the tables, and staff and volunteers loaded boxes of food into their cars. At the time, the Volunteer Resource Center oversaw these food assistance programs.
During the pandemic, the director of the Volunteer Resource Center Hannah Wilks decided to create the Basic Needs Center, which opened in the fall of 2022. This center now runs the mobile food pantry, along with other initiatives to support students.
Maddie Atuire, a Feed the Stampede coordinator and a recent graduate of CU Boulder, helps to run the mobile food pantries. She has been a part of the Volunteer Resource Center for a year and a half. Though she felt happy to help distribute food to hundreds of community members, she describes the event as bittersweet.
“It’s somewhat frustrating because there is so much need on this campus,” she said. “I feel like this need is not always being adequately addressed, so I am definitely motivated to help better the situation.”
Feed the Stampede currently gets all of its food from a partnership with Community Food Share, a food bank that provides food to pantries in Boulder and Broomfield counties. According to Wilks, Community Food Share provided about 10,000 pounds of food, including meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, for Tuesday’s event.
According to Adam Deal, the director of operations at Community Food Share, the partnership with CU Boulder has allowed the community to come together to combat local food insecurity and poverty.
On Tuesday, the mobile food pantry provided a sense of community. People lined up for the pantry shared smiles and conversations. Some even knew the staff and volunteers by name.
“It’s really nice that they make it so convenient for people,” said freshman Chloe Nowak. “It also brings the community [together] because a lot of people will come over here to get free food.”
“Mobile food pantries are open to anyone, truly,” Wilks said. “You’re not going to have a restriction if you come up; it’s open to all students, staff, faculty and community members.”
The Basic Needs Center plans to continue to run these mobile food pantries monthly. The next event will run on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The full schedule for the fall semester is listed on the Basic Needs Center website.