It is, without a doubt, apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a high demand for goods and services throughout the country (anyone need toilet paper?), but at the same time also swiftly shut down businesses, taken away opportunities, and left a majority of people unsure about the future. One demographic that governments have a hard time turning an eye to is students. With hardly a seat at the table, students are being left behind, or being given false assurance that help is on the way. But there’s one service at the University of Windsor that has remained open as an essential service, serving students for the last year—the UWSA Campus Food Pantry.
Through a coordinated effort from Food Pantry/Walksafe Coordinator, Alanna Olteanu and her extraordinary team of six student volunteers, the UWSA Campus Food Pantry has kept on with its mission of ending food insecurity at the University of Windsor while navigating the turbulent waters that is the pandemic, including two provincial-wide lockdowns, campus closures, and no plans to have students return to campus any time soon. The UWSA Campus Food Pantry has had to adapt to the demands from public health officials in order to continue to operate—enacting to operate by appointment only and implementing a new booking system—a unique addition to the service this year.
Alanna Olteanu, UWSA Campus Food Pantry/Walksafe Coordinator
“The goal of the food pantry during the pandemic was to ensure that no student on campus has to choose between a meal and tuition, and we have all worked our hardest to ensure that it was accomplished. Through donations from charitable members of our community, we were able to keep the pantry open to all students who were in need, and to provide a sense of security.”— Alanna Olteanu, UWSA Campus Food Pantry/Walksafe Coordinator
The volunteers have been pivotal in the UWSA Food Pantry’s success, describes Olteanu, with all of them making the daily commute to open the doors every morning and with a smile on their face. They are the unsung essential workers and some of the remaining few still on campus and in the Student Centre.
“Leading the food pantry has allowed me to meet an awesome team of volunteers that I am incredibly grateful for. They are all so hard working and dedicating to improving the lives of students all over UWindsor’s campus, and have taken initiative time and time again.”— Alanna Olteanu, UWSA Campus Food Pantry/Walksafe Coordinator
We asked the volunteers to reflect on the past year while working at the UWSA Campus Food Pantry and on how their experience has deepened their connection to their community.
“Through volunteering at the UWSA Food Pantry I’ve been privileged to meet many students who come from various backgrounds. It’s unfortunately easy for me, as someone who lives in Windsor and went to high school in Windsor, to avoid meeting new people as I already have plenty of friends that go here. Thankfully, volunteering at the food pantry has pushed me out of this bubble and given me the chance to gain perspective and make new friends outside of my usual circles. Volunteering here has also taught me just how big of a problem food scarcity is, even in Windsor, and how important these services are to our community, especially during Covid. Despite this difficulty the people in this city are incredibly generous. There were multiple times that we restocked the pantry with food that was still left over from the city-wide food drive in the Summer, months after the event took place! Volunteering at the food pantry is really about much more than simply handing out food, it’s about showing students that there’s a support system here for you at the University and that we’re all a part of one family.”
— Patrick Lauzon, UWSA Campus Food Pantry Volunteer
“While being given this incredible opportunity to work as a volunteer for the UWSA Food Pantry, I can say with ease that there have been many moments where I have personally felt very impacted by those around me. Before signing up to become a volunteer I did not realize how important a facility such as this one was to our community, especially to the students who attended the university. Not only are we being given the ability to serve students in need who are dealing with food insecurities, but it in turn has provided me with the ability to connect to others on a weekly basis. One of my fondest moments while volunteering was growing interpersonal relationships with some of the students who came on a regular day basis. I had yet to realize how important these connections would be to me as this pandemic has put a strain on everyone’s ability to socialize and meet new people. I am beyond grateful to be helping my local community and appreciative of the little conversations I had with all students coming in. You never know how one can impact your life and as much as those students thought we were helping them; they too were helping us in ways that I will always be beyond appreciative for.”
— Danica Nedeljkovic, UWSA Campus Food Pantry Volunteer
“Volunteering has always been a major way that I have found to give back to my community and get involved within campus life. The UWSA Food Pantry has been an experience like no other, especially while dealing with the uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic. While dealing with the stress of the university workload, ensuring that all students feel secure with everyday basic necessities is crucial with mental health and well-being. When students feel as though getting food is unattainable, the UWSA Food Pantry helps to take off the stress that this insecurity would provide. The new connections that I have made with students using the service, as well as the other volunteers and staff within the UWSA, has been super beneficial to my connection with overall university life. Providing this service has been a major stress relief to so many students that would have otherwise suffered the pressures of making ends meet. This experience has been beneficial to the students using the service, along with myself, in ways that will impact the direction of my entire life and I will forever be thankful.”
— Meghan Rae, UWSA Campus Food Pantry Volunteer
“Volunteering at the UWSA Food Pantry has been an incredible opportunity. There were many impactful moments throughout the year, however, my favourite ones were whenever we would pick up donations! The sheer number of things we would receive was astounding, and seeing how much our community partners cared was very heart-warming. Being able to constantly have a variety of different goods was exciting, especially when someone was looking for something specific and we were actually able to provide it! During these unprecedented times, it was nice being part of a community that offers support to those who need it 😊”
— Maria Roye-Azar, UWSA Campus Food Pantry Volunteer
“While working with the UWSA Food Pantry, I get the chance to meet new students who come from different places around the world. They share stories about their life back home, as well as their new life here in Windsor, and I always love to hear from them!! My favorite part of the experience is when we share new recipes that can be made with the supplies offered by the Food Pantry. The diversity in these recipes always makes me excited to try them out myself! Food is an amazing way to connect with others, and seeing these students benefit from the Food Pantry services motivates me to continue helping, especially during these hard times.”
— Daniella Skaf, UWSA Campus Food Pantry Volunteer
“While volunteering at the UWSA Food Pantry I have had the pleasure of meeting many students of diverse backgrounds. While the Food Pantry is primarily about food security, it is also about community – especially during the pandemic. Students’ visits to the Food Pantry may not last very long, but in preparing someone’s food basket you are able to share company with them for a little while. Conversations about their program and their life can start, and you can feel a sense of connection. This is something that not only helps the students we serve, but also ourselves. I always look forward to coming into the Food Pantry every Monday to make a difference and talk to the students who come in as they’re always very friendly and easy to talk to. Recently, one of the Food Pantry users initiated a longer and more personal conversation with me, and expressed gratitude for the extra help I provide her when she comes in. She also asked me what time I volunteer each week so that she knows when to come see me again. This really lifted my spirits and made my efforts to be welcoming feel acknowledged. There is nothing better than making a difference while simultaneously making friends.”
— Emily Newman, UWSA Campus Food Pantry Volunteer
In conclusion, the UWSA Campus Food Pantry acknowledges that, without the volunteers, the service would not be able to function to the capacity that it is today, and that their stories and experiences will go on to inspire future change makers at the University of Windsor.
A big thank you goes out to the individuals and organizations that made donations over the last year! Your contributions help keep the shelves stocked and provide students with a healthy variety of foods.
If you’re interested in learning more about the UWSA Campus Food Pantry, you can contact the team. Or if you’re interested in volunteering or working for the UWSA Campus Food Pantry in the future, there are calls for volunteers usually at the beginning of the Fall term on our website and on the UWSA social media pages.