When SASN Dean Jacqueline Mattis and her staff returned to campus this fall, they wanted to find a way to support to the most vulnerable members of Rutgers University–Newark’s community as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to challenge students, staff and their families.
They decided to host a Fall Compassion@SASN Challenge to help stock the shelves of PantryRUN, the school’s food pantry, which has played an essential role by feeding families during this tumultuous year.
“We weren't thinking about goals and benchmarks, and we had no idea how many people might want to get involved,” said Mattis. ‘We just thought, if we can take the worry about food off the hearts of even a few people, then that would be amazing.”
To say the response exceeded Mattis’ expectations is an understatement.
Over the course of the two-week food-drive, which took place September 14–30, SASN faculty, staff and students donated more than 625 pounds of food items to PantryRUN, with more due to arrive beyond the deadline.
The college’s generosity also impressed PantryRUN Director Hend El Buri.
“The SASN food drive has been incredible because we’ve seen donations from so many different people, rather than one or two large donations from a couple of people,” said El Buri “The support from the college has been widespread, with more than 30 individual donations so far, many of them anonymous.”
The pantry, which is part of the Health & Wellness office of RU-N’s Division of Student Affairs, was founded at the Paul Robeson Campus Center (PRCC) in 2017 after the Student Government Association (SGA), the Graduate SGA, NJPIRG and other student organizations advocated for it. The administration’s support enabled the pantry to grow, prompting it to move into the larger space it currently occupies in PRCC’s Room 226.
We want to help make our students’ lives easier so when they’re studying, they don’t have to worry about where their, and their family’s, next meal will come from.
El Buri’s team includes Coordinator Jill Goordman plus 13 work-study student volunteers, along with occasional volunteer groups—although El Buri has had to limit the number of people in the pantry during Covid to maintain safe social-distancing. Volunteers do a variety of jobs, from stocking shelves and filling orders to helping guests and organizing food and donations.
PantryRUN provides nutritious food to RU-N students and staff experiencing food insecurity, including grains (pastas and rice), fresh produce (usually between August and November), canned goods, snacks, milk and other staples.
“We want to help make our students’ lives easier so when they’re studying, they don’t have to worry about where their, and their family’s, next meal will come from,” said El Buri.
The pantry receives donations from sources outside the RU-N community as well, including the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, which has been providing PantryRUN with free items during the pandemic, and MEND, an interfaith network of more than 20 member food pantries and community partners located throughout Essex County, which provides the pantry with non-perishables, fresh produce, frozen meals and non-food items like hygiene products.
People in and around Newark also donate, including one nearby city that recently sent several large shipments of items after receiving a surplus of donations.
Donors can contribute by sending food directly to PantryRUN from vendors like Target, Amazon or Wal-Mart; by dropping off food donations during open hours or coordinating drop-offs via email with pantry staff; or by making a financial contribution through the Rutgers University Foundation.
PantryRUN is open 6 days a week during the school year. Visitors can order once a week, or in certain circumstances when students are going through extra-challenging circumstances, El Buri and her staff will work with them to cover their needs.
Prior to the pandemic, students, faculty and staff could “shop” the shelves in-person. In March 2021 the pantry launched online ordering and curbside pickup to maintain safe social-distancing.
Since starting as PantryRUN’s director in February 2021, El Buri has witnessed firsthand the remarkable commitment of donors and student volunteers. Mattis has also been moved by the college’s most recent outpouring of support.
“Hearing that our SASN donations exceeded 600 pounds is so beautiful. I am eternally blown away by how wonderful this community is,” said Mattis. “We are so deeply grateful to everyone who gave, and to Hend for the work that she and her team do every day, and we are so humbled that there are members of our community who have a place of compassion that they can rely on for help. It says so much about who we are.”
Pantry Hours: Mon: 11am–2pm / Tue: 9am–2pm / Wed: 1–6pm / Th: 2–6pm / Fri: 10am–noon / Sat: 11am–1pm
Before donating, please click the Food Donations tab here to see an updated list of items the pantry needs most.
To coordinate food-donation drop-offs with PantryRUN staff, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To volunteer, please visit here.