Plenty to be thankful for: Cats’ Cupboard provides support for food insecure students this holiday season

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It’s Thanksgiving Day. You’re sitting at the table with your family, listening to the cacophony of relatives’ voices as you breathe in the warm, mouthwatering scents of the turkey, mashed potatoes, creamy corn, green beans and stuffing, all the while eyeing the pumpkin pie you know will be the final dish that sends you into a food-induced coma.

It’s a picturesque scene straight from a Norman Rockwell painting, but it is one not shared by all Kansas State students.

According to the Campus Climate Project Final Report, published in 2015, 39.4 percent of financially stressed K-State students did not have consistent, stable access to affordable food, a condition known as food insecurity.

Two years later, the campus food pantry, Cats’ Cupboard, opened its doors in Fairchild Hall. Cats’ Cupboard offers a range of goods: canned foods, breakfast items, pasta, toiletries, school supplies and cooking utensils.

Mark Woolard, graduate student in family studies and assistant at Cats’ Cupboard, said he knows firsthand the importance of programs like this one.

“I come from a background of generational poverty and food insecurity,” Woolard said. “This is something that has been on my radar.”

Prior to becoming the graduate assistant for Cats’ Cupboard, Woolard said he donated and volunteered to different organizations across Kansas and other states.

Between Oct. 28 and Nov. 8, the food pantry was visited 194 times by 114 students. These numbers can only be expected to rise as the holiday season approaches.

In preparation, student groups, fraternities and sororities have volunteered time, effort and goods to Cats’ Cupboard.

“We had a lot of donations come in when [Cats’ Cupboard] first opened, and we’re having a lot come in now,” Erin Bishop, Cats’ Cupboard coordinator, said. “Homecoming Week did a bunch of stuff for us, and then Alpha Zeta did a really big donation drive at Dillon’s on [Nov. 12].”

During that day-long donation drive, the fraternity garnered between 750 and 800 donated items.

“We were down to two packages of spaghetti, and now our pasta section is jam-packed, which is awesome,” Bishop said.

While a package of pasta may not seem like much to some, it can mean the world to someone who comes through Cats’ Cupboard’s door.

“I’ve heard other faculty and support staff tell me they’ve had students come in and tell them that [Cats’ Cupboard] has helped them,” Bishop said. “A lot of the students were financially strapped, and some of them said they were basically surviving because of Cats’ Cupboard.”

While Bishop and the rest of the Cats’ Cupboard staff are pleased with current student involvement and donations, Bishop said they have several hopes for the service’s future.

One hope is to spread more awareness about Cats’ Cupboard, as only about half of the student body is aware of the service, Bishop said.

One such student who had yet to find out more about Cats’ Cupboard is Ellie Montgomery, senior in industrial engineering.

“I definitely think there is a need for [Cats’ Cupboard],” Montgomery said. “I don’t know if I’m the most informed student about it, but I do think it’s a really good thing for students.”

Cats’ Cupboard also hopes to eventually establish “refueling stations,” or smaller locations around campus, to make the service more accessible to students living in the Jardine Apartments and other off-campus locations.

Holiday hours for Cats’ Cupboard are Sundays 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays noon to 6 p.m., Tuesdays 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Wednesdays 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

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