Empty Stomachs and Giving Hands

Far back into the second floor of the campus center, beyond Caribou Coffee and the student health center, stands a pair of doors. One leads to the parking garage complex, as indicated by the silver letters above it. The other is a former supply closet and opens twice a week to provide food for anyone who walks in.

It’s called Paw’s Pantry, a food pantry run by students, for students.

Paw's location, right beside the Vermont garage entrance. 

Paw's location, right beside the Vermont garage entrance. 

What began as an idea by a handful of students to alleviate hunger among their peers sprang to life in 2013. In CC220, every Wednesday and Thursday Paw’s is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from noon to 4 p.m. every other Saturday. Anyone with a JagTag, whether student, faculty or staff, is eligible to receive food from Paw’s. Proof of financial need or income level is not required.

“If you say you need us, we’re here for you,” Chrissie Geels, chair of Paw’s Pantry, said.

Patrons are only asked if they have dependents, which affects how many points they are allotted to spend in a visit. Single individuals are given 30 points, while those with dependents have 40 points.

Items are given a point value between one and four and a sticker to express said value. Point values are based upon how many servings are in a container; for example, a granola bar will likely have a green single-point sticker, while a jar of peanut butter may have a red four-point sticker.

A sign indicating the shortage and limitation on points.

A sign indicating the shortage and limitation on points.

However, Paw’s is facing a shortage. Due to a steadily rising number of patrons but a standard amount of donations, volunteers are struggling to keep the pantry stocked. As a result, points have been reduced to 25 for everyone, although shoppers may earn a few extra by bringing a reusable bag.

“Personally, [the point reduction] hasn’t really bothered me that much,” Layla Tavassoli, a regular client of Paw’s, said. “It definitely helps when there are more points, but at this point my family will literally take whatever we can get and the fact that we can get anything is just a real, real help to us.”

When the shelves threaten to go bare, committee members have to make an emergency run. Those with cars gather and visit a grocery store and buy as much food as they can.

“It’s like a reality TV show, honestly,” Jake Nagy, vice chair of operations and partnerships, said. “Each one of us gets a cart and we just fill it with tons of food.”

Paw’s has an Indiana University Foundation account that receives direct donations and is used to fund the emergency runs. They are supplied exclusively through donations, be it in food items or money, and receive no money from IUPUI. Currently, they’re seeking a local sponsor or partner, such as the Midwest Food Bank or a local grocery chain like Marsh.

Volunteers Christopher Enochs, Laura Lentz, and Andy Bai ring up a patron at Paw's Pantry. 

Volunteers Christopher Enochs, Laura Lentz, and Andy Bai ring up a patron at Paw's Pantry. 

Paw’s has served about 620 individuals and had 2,528 visits from Jan. 2014 to June 2016. They work to meet the needs of their clients and stock up on what’s most commonly purchased. Cereal, granola bars, ramen noodles, and frozen meals are their most sought after items. To donate fresh foods, drop them off at the room during office hours.

The second half of Paw’s operation is volunteering. They’re currently seeking groups to gather, sort, and shelve items for Jam the Pantry, and encourage people to sign up for regular shifts as soon as the spring schedules are completed, as the beginning of the semester is their weakest time.

“When I’m doing things for Paw’s Pantry, it doesn’t necessarily feel like I’m doing extra work, it just feels like I have a purpose,” Melanie Scheive, vice chair of volunteering, said.

With the holidays fast approaching, Paw’s wants to provide families with a real Thanksgiving dinner. Jam the Pantry, Paw’s biggest food drive, began on Oct. 15 and will end on Nov. 15. In that time, they want to smash last year’s record and collect two tons of food.

Last year, Paw’s created 100 Thanksgiving baskets filled with items a family would need for a complete dinner, but due to labor intensiveness and the need to reduce waste, things have changed. Now the pantry will be completely stocked with Thanksgiving foods for shoppers to access as they would on a normal day.

A sign explaining that patrons may only take ten items with a green sticker due to limits. 

A sign explaining that patrons may only take ten items with a green sticker due to limits. 

“I really think it’s important to have a lovely holiday,” Nagy said. “I remember, even though I struggled, we always made sure we had enough food to properly celebrate during the holidays and I think everyone should be able to enjoy that.”

Paw’s Pantry is dedicated to serving those in need at IUPUI and is determined to stay open even during shortages.

“We would be doing a disservice to our fellow students by not providing them with everything they needed to succeed,” Geels said. “Have you ever tried to sit through class hungry? … I don’t know how we can be expected to do well in our classes without having these very basic, fundamental needs met first.”

“I think it’s a really great resource and I hope they never get rid of it, because it does help a lot of students,” Tavassoli said. “It has honestly made a difference in whether or not my family has eaten some nights.”