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- Mercy in Action
By Lauren Yancer '21
Food insecurity is a growing concern nationwide, especially on college campuses. In fact, according to a Fall 2020 GMercyU campus survey, 36.4% of the sample population expressed concerns regarding food and/or housing insecurity.
In true Mercy fashion, Catherine’s Cupboard aims to combat the issue head-on.
Founded in 2016, Catherine’s Cupboard is GMercyU’s own food pantry, now located at Tabor House on the Gwynedd Valley campus. It started out as a small initiative with shelves of non-perishable food items in the back of Visitation House. Now, Catherine’s Cupboard is serving as a model program for how college campuses can meet the needs of their students.
“Catherine’s Cupboard is a direct expression of GMercyU’s identity as a Catholic university rooted in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy. It ‘makes mercy real’ not only by providing students with basic needs such as food, home supplies, and connections to other social organizations in the area, but also by listening to students as they share their needs with us. I am proud of how the Cupboard has expanded and am hopeful that our community sees the work that it does as a vital and integral part of our campus life,” said Jeff Wallace, Director of Campus Ministry.
Catherine’s Cupboard isn’t just helping the GMercyU community, it is collaborating with other organizations across Montgomery County as a core member of the College Student Basic Needs Consortium (CBSN). Manna on Main Street is the main partner in operations of Catherine’s Cupboard. GMercyU partnered with them to enable students to be enrolled as Manna clientele regardless of living outside of the normal boundaries.
Garden of Health, a non-profit organization founded by GMercyU alumna Carol Bauer ‘93, is another partner of Catherine’s Cupboard. At the end of summer 2021, Garden of Health provided fresh produce to Catherine’s Cupboard and has been supplying more products that are organic, non-allergenic, contain lower sodium and sugar, and are gluten free. Another organization called Lasagna Love provides homemade lasagnas to Catherine’s Cupboard for students to take home to their families.
In addition to food items, Catherine’s Cupboard offers students toiletry and household items, including diapers and sanitary pads donated by Mitzvah Circle.
In January 2022, Catherine’s Cupboard and the CSBN consortium hope to launch their expansion pilot program which will serve as a model for other college campuses. The consortium recently received several grants from local foundations to help kickstart the pilot.
Assistant Director of Campus Ministry for Community Service Betsy Stone Plummer has been leading the project and has been working with other departments on campus to offer a variety of internship opportunities for GMercyU students. Interns’ roles will vary depending on their areas of study.
By Summer 2022, the CSBN consortium hopes to gain two full-time volunteers from AmeriCorps VISTA and Mercy Volunteer Corps. In collaboration with Montgomery County Community College, one volunteer will work on their campus and the other will work on GMercyU’s Gwynedd Valley campus.
With more volunteers and interns, Catherine’s Cupboard’s reach will be able to grow exponentially. One of the goals of the pilot launch is to develop a community within the Catherine’s Cupboard clientele. Another is to create a website with a resource center for college students in the Montgomery County community. Another goal they’re striving to reach is to create more affordable housing options for GMercyU and Montgomery County Community College students. In the end, Catherine’s Cupboard wishes to create a more sustainable and systemic way to distribute goods and combat food and basic needs insecurity among college students.
“Our ultimate goal is to create sort of a model for that kind of collaboration for other institutions and their communities,” said Plummer.
If you or someone you know is experiencing food insecurity or you would like to help with Catherine’s Cupboard’s initiatives, please reach out via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in GMercyU's latest President's Report.