Through the Student Lens – Determined students work to raise awareness surrounding food and hygiene insecurity on campus

Abbie Cramer ’26
Farmington, Maine
Major: Film and New Media Studies / Minors: Marketing and Design

Daniela Peña ’26
Bogotá, Colombia
Major: Neuroscience / Minor: Public Health

How does Wheaton’s Food Pantry have an impact on the campus community and the student experience? Learn more about the Pantry and see how two determined students are working to raise awareness surrounding food and hygiene insecurity as you take a look “Through the Student Lens.”

1. Can you describe what the Wheaton Food Pantry is as well as how and why it was established?

Abbie: The Pantry is a space where any student can receive food, hygiene, and sanitary products. My coworker Dani and I work to make a space inclusive and accessible for all students. Through our work, we support students who struggle to have access to good, healthy, and culturally appropriate food through advocacy and awareness. The Pantry was established to alleviate stress for students with food and hygiene insecurity and bring education about these insecurities to the Wheaton campus.

Daniela: The Pantry was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the main floor of the Wallace Library in December 2022. Since then, it has grown and has reached more and more students. In the past, the Pantry was regularly stocked with new products thanks to The Bland Fund, the Stop & Shop School Food Pantry Program, and donations from community members. The Pantry has grown with the leadership of Grace Thayer, the Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA Member for Food Insecurity, and the continuous support of The Center for Social Justice and Community Impact (SJCI) also known as The Base. Currently, the Pantry is open five days a week, and it is a confidential place that all students can access—No questions asked!

2. What are some of the past and upcoming events, activities, or initiatives associated with the Food Pantry and how does the Food Pantry impact the Wheaton community?

Abbie: The Pantry holds many food and hygiene drives during the year. One of my favorite events that the Pantry put on was our Iron Chef event with the Hungry Lyons, a Theme House whose mission is to bring awareness about food insecurity among students. This was an event that brought students all across campus together to compete in teams to make the best dish. All of the food supplies were donated by the Pantry and Hungry Lyons supplied the kitchens and cooking utensils. We will hold another Iron Chef competition next semester!

Daniela: We have done a few tabling events to spread the word about the Pantry and collect donations from the Wheaton community. We organized a hygiene drive for Valentine’s Day and a Halloween-themed food drive. Last year, we collaborated with Hungry Lyons and other organizations on campus when the Hungry Lyons hosted a “Goods for Goods” event during which students received a baked good in exchange for donating an item to the Pantry.

Some of our upcoming events include our anniversary celebration, the second edition of Iron Chef, and an activity to explore the impact of food on mental health. We are always working on expanding the impact of the Pantry to support the Wheaton community.

3. What responsibilities do you hold at the Food Pantry and what is your favorite part about your experience interning there?

Abbie: In the Food Pantry, I help restock and take inventory. I create flyers and materials for social media to bring attention to Pantry and our events and educational information about food and hygiene insecurity. I also work with Dani to plan events for the Pantry.

My favorite part about interning here is that I get to work with such an amazing group of people, including not only my coworker Dani but also the rest of the SJCI interns and our amazing supervisor Grace Thayer.

Daniela: I manage the Pantry two days a week. Grace Thayer does all the shopping for the Pantry. Abbie and I are in charge of tracking inventory, restocking, and interacting with students, staff, or faculty who come to us with questions about the Pantry and food insecurity. In addition, I work with the rest of the interns and staff members at The Base to develop initiatives to raise awareness about food insecurity at Wheaton and other social justice issues. We host a variety of events throughout the year and develop activities in collaboration with different offices on campus.

My favorite part about interning with The Base in the Pantry is that I get to see the true impact of food and hygiene safety on students, who often leave the pantry with joy and relief. I feel proud, knowing that we are contributing to the general wellness of students. I also love working alongside the amazing staff at The Base who share my passion for social justice and always bring students’ voices forward.

4. How do the two of you work as a team and how has interning at the Food Pantry served as an experiential learning opportunity at Wheaton?

Abbie: Dani and I collaborate as a team by creating a welcoming environment in the Pantry and helping to make sure the needs of students are being met on campus. We work together when we are planning events and help to collect donations for the Pantry. I am very grateful to work alongside Dani! Interning at the Pantry has served as a great experiential learning opportunity at Wheaton. I learn best through experience. I find that I learn not only about the topics at hand but also about myself. Interning at the Pantry has taught me about being professional and has also given me the opportunity to be more involved with social justice and food and hygiene insecurity. We strive to support others when they need it and interning has been a great experiential learning experience.

Daniela: Together Abbie and I usually brainstorm ideas for upcoming events, social media content, and different initiatives for the Pantry. Since we are involved in different areas of campus and have different backgrounds, it is always interesting to see how our points of view come together to meet students’ needs. The internship in the Pantry has allowed me to develop skills that go beyond the classroom setting. Through hands-on work, I have connected with the Wheaton community and gained a better understanding of how to better support it. I have been pushed to take the initiative in the different events and learned leadership skills that I apply in my other roles on campus.

5. How long have you worked/volunteered at the food pantry and what other activities are you involved in on campus?

Abbie: I have worked in the Food Pantry since it officially opened last year in 2022. I am also a member of the Outdoors House, Outdoors Club, and the Wheaton Track and Field Team.

Daniela: I joined the Pantry in the fall of 2022, the first semester as a first-year student. I applied for the position right before I came to Wheaton because I had previously volunteered in food banks and other organizations that battled food insecurity and I knew I wanted to support this cause at Wheaton. My involvement at Wheaton generally relates to supporting and bringing forward the voices of minority groups on campus, and my goal is to combine the skills and knowledge from my different positions to work on improving students’ well-being. Besides working at The Base, I am an intercultural peer mentor through the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning, the events manager of the Student Government Association’s Intercultural Board, a biology laboratory teaching assistant, and the co-founder of the International Student Association.

6. The Bland Fund helps to cover some of the costs involved in supporting and maintaining the Pantry. Can you describe the importance of financial gifts and donations like these to this area of campus and their impact?

Abbie: Some students, especially in higher education, are unable to afford certain products which can create lots of stress and uncertainty in their lives. With the pressure of academics, this can pile up on top of the stress that is already associated with life. These funds can help support students and relieve that stress.

This is why financial gifts and donations are so important to students on campus especially those who struggle with food and hygiene insecurities.

Daniela: The Bland Fund is an essential resource for the Pantry. While we currently restock the Pantry using the Shop School Food Pantry Program grant, the Bland Fund was particularly useful when the Pantry was first starting, and it is a great resource we know the Pantry can use whenever it is needed.

These kinds of donations are important because they facilitate the creation of initiatives that benefit the students and make sure those initiatives have a long-lasting effect at Wheaton.

The Pantry accepts donations of non-perishable food and hygiene items year-round in the donation bins in the Cole Memorial Chapel basement and in front of the Pantry located in room 113, on the main floor of the Wallace Library, near the circulation desk.

Abbie and Daniela are just two of the many engaging students here at Wheaton. As parents, guardians, and families you are an integral part of our community. “Through the Student Lens” brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play and the experiences they gain during their time here at Wheaton.