When in-person instruction at Rutgers ended in March, Deja Little said she never considered abandoning her post at the PantryRUN in the Paul Robeson Campus Center.
“For me, it was a no brainer,” said Little, 20, a rising senior who started as federal work-study student at the food pantry shortly after arriving at Rutgers University-Newark four years ago and became an intern there in January. “We quickly came up with ways to make it safer for all of us. It feels rewarding because this a very hard time for people, and they are so appreciative that we are open and can help.”
Prior to the pandemic, the East Orange resident majoring in social work and minoring in criminal justice worked 10 hours a week crafting social media flyers and organizing work-study student schedules and donation deliveries. Now, with a reduced staff, she works 20 hours a week but in a more hands-on capacity with food pantry coordinator Gina Gohl and a handful of student volunteers to stock shelves and package and distribute bags to reduce the number of people coming in and out of the pantry.
“Across the country, food insecurity has increased, exacerbated by rising food costs and problems with the food supply chain.
Rutgers-Newark’s food pantry served a little more than 300 people through a self-shopping approach before COVID-19, said the director, Ellen Daley. Currently, an average of 100 people – both staff and students – stop by for a weekly bag of pre-packed necessities.
“Across the country, food insecurity has increased, exacerbated by rising food costs and problems with the food supply chain,” Daley said. “During the same time, we have learned that COVID-19 takes a bigger toll on Black and brown communities, in part because of the sorts of health disparities that are made worse by poor diets. It has remained important that we keep the PantryRUN doors open to support our Rutgers community.”
Gohl, who has worked part-time at the pantry since November, said she is grateful to be able to continue working with others through the quarantine. Though they are not physically passing through the pantry, Gohl and Little said they have enjoyed interacting with the people they serve during weekly pickups.
“We have more moments where we have to work around people’s schedules so people can eat for another week,” Little said. “Even though the pandemic has made it so that you are farther from people, we have been more intimate with people in another way.”
Gohl has grown accustomed to working in an empty campus center, but during those first few days after the campus cleared out, she said the silence was deafening.
“It’s weird being on a college campus and being one of only a handful of people in the whole building,” Gohl said. “I miss the work-study students who come through the pantry, and I miss the vibrancy we used to have on campus.”
This story is excerpted from the Rutgers Today story "Meet Rutgers Essential Workers", which profiled people from across Rutgers who have kept the university running and served others who remained on campus while most of the community has been working remotely since March. Read the entire feature at https://www.rutgers.edu/news/essential-workers