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NMSU Food Pantry reaches out to students and employees facing tough times

New Mexico State University is giving new meaning to the phrase "food for thought." The recently opened NMSU Food Pantry is a free and confidential service that distributes nonperishable food to students, staff and faculty in need of emergency assistance.

Lori Haussamen and volunteers organizing food items for the NMSU food pantry
Lori Haussamen and volunteers organize food items for the NMSU food pantry inside of the Christian Challenge building. It is a free and confidential service that distributes nonperishable food to students, staff and faculty in need of emergency assistance. (NMSU photo by Rachel Valerio)

The service is available to anyone with a current NMSU ID at the Christian Challenge building, at 1313 East University Ave., from 4-6 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday.

"I ran across many students who were struggling to meet their basic needs," said Lori Haussamen, NMSU social worker. "It is difficult to be successful academically if you are chronically hungry, so I started thinking about what can be done."

Haussamen has worked at NMSU Social Work Services for five years and helps connect students to resources on and off campus.

"Because of the economy I started seeing students come in for basic needs," she said. "After they paid for school there wasn't a lot of money left for food. So when money got stretched they started skipping meals."

Haussamen spoke with other staff members at NMSU and learned that they were also dealing with students who were struggling on a daily basis. She researched how other universities handle hunger issues with their students and discovered that food pantries on college campuses were not uncommon.

"Some have been around for awhile," she said. "A lot of them have popped up over the last five years, around the same time our economy started plummeting."

The NMSU Food Pantry opened this fall and Haussamen is pleased with how it has been operating.

"I was a little nervous about getting started at first," she said. "You don't know how much food you're going to need and how many people are going to come in. We have a good group of volunteers; I'm really pleased with our set up."

The NMSU Food Pantry is a collaborative project between NMSU Social Work Services and the NMSU Christian Challenge, which also houses the food pantry and provides volunteers to help distribute the food.

Volunteers for the NMSU Food Pantry are in charge of setting up and distributing the food to those who come in. They also stock the food, take inventory and make sure that the donated food is safe to be distributed.

Donations can be dropped off in the Counseling Center in Garcia Annex, Room 100 and arrangements for pick-ups can also be made. The organization is accepting donations of nonperishable food to stock the pantry such as; pasta, tomato sauce, canned vegetables, peanut butter, canned tuna or chicken, soup and cereal.

"We're trying to encourage people to donate healthy things," Haussamen said. "We want to encourage good eating habits as well."

The NMSU Food Pantry also has set up an account for those wishing to donate financially at www.giving.nmsu.edu.

"Initially we were thinking we would just do food donations," she said. "A lot of people have asked if they could donate money, which just floored me in this economy."

The NMSU Food Pantry is currently participating in Helping Hands Across America, a Sodexo Campus Dining campaign to stop hunger on the NMSU campus that runs in conjunction with the national Stop Hunger Foundation Food Drive. When purchasing food at any of the Sodexo dining locations on campus, individuals will be able to donate either $1 or $5 to the NMSU Food Pantry. Donations can be made until Nov. 19.

As a way to encourage the NMSU Community to take ownership of the food pantry, a naming contest is underway to give the food pantry an official name. There were about 40 submissions and the top five will be taken to vote at NMSU later this month.

"What I hope for the food pantry is that it would be an ongoing source of support for students and staff who need it," Haussamen said. "It can be really hard to ask for help and there can be so much shame asking for help and my hope is that the attitude we have with the food pantry is that anyone can fall into hard times."

For more information on the NMSU Food Pantry contact Haussamen at 575-646-2731 or mlori@nmsu.edu. To donate to the Sodexo Helping Hands NMSU Food Pantry Campaign questions may be answered by phoning Katrina Miner, Marketing Director at 575-646-1749.