On-campus food shelf aids students

A food shelf at Winona State University has become increasingly successful with the help of numerous university and community resources.

The Warrior Cupboard, located in the university’s Integrated Wellness Complex, began operations in fall 2017.

Kim Zeiher, academic advisor and student leadership coordinator for Winona State’s TRIO program and one of the minds behind the Warrior Cupboard, talked about the initial reason for starting the food shelf.

“There were people on campus who were reporting that they saw the challenges students were facing with regard to food insecurity and then how that, in turn, caused challenges to academic success,” Zeiher said.

Zeiher added students within the TRIO program, as well as across campus, were choosing to buy textbooks over food.

Before the Warrior Cupboard came to Winona State, Zeiher said she had already created a “mini” food shelf for students within the TRIO program.

“They see food as you make choices about and so it had to do with either eliminating meals out of the day or eating low-quality food with poor nutrition,” Zeiher said. “We were talking about, ‘Well, how do we solve that problem?’”

The TRIO food shelf became a temporary solution for students, so creators of the Warrior Cupboard could rally faculty and staff for a larger, long-term food shelf.

Director of Integrated Wellness and another mind behind the Warrior Cupboard, Kate Noelke, explained how the university got a better idea of how many students were in need of food.

“We did a survey in the spring of 2015 asking the Winona State student body who would utilize this service if we had it on campus, how would you utilize, what is the current situation of your financial needs, your security or insecurity with regards to food,” Noelke said. “What we got was up to 40 percent of our population of students have experienced food insecurity in the last month.”

Kate Noelke, director of integrated wellness at Winona State University, oversees the Warrior Cupboard student food shelf.

After the survey, Noelke, Zeiher and other faculty and staff members started campaigning for an on-campus food shelf.

Grant money was given by the WSU Foundation to create a space on campus for the Warrior Cupboard and with the help of the Vice President of Student Life and Development, Denise McDowell.

Noelke said it is important to note the Warrior Cupboard is only meant to “fill in the gaps” for students who are hungry. She said, however, she can help students who use the cupboard access services within the Winona community if they are in need of additional support.

The Warrior Cupboard’s primary partner outside the university is Winona Volunteer Services.

“We worked with Sandra Burke, who is the executive director at Winona Volunteer Services, to come up with the strategic plan and to identify the need and make sure that we still have that permanent connection for students who are coming and needing food here to get to Winona Volunteer Services if their needs are more severe than what the Warrior Cupboard can do,” Noelke said.

Noelke said Winona Volunteer Services is not the only resource that helps keep the Warrior Cupboard at Winona State.

She said through a social media, grassroots-style fundraiser close to $1,000 was raised and split between the Warrior Cupboard and Winona State’s on-campus garden, SEED Garden.

Noelke added Winona State students, faculty and staff, have contributed money and food to the shelf.

“We also have individual student clubs and organizations that will go and do a tabling event and say, ‘We’re collecting donations for the Warrior Cupboard.’ We might get $5 or we might get $50, but quite frankly, every dollar counts,” Noelke said.

Creators of the Warrior Cupboard have also worked with the WSU Foundation, so faculty and staff can contribute a percentage of their paycheck to the food shelf.

“There are several faculty emeritus and some staff and faculty on campus now that donate their actual earned income to this service every two weeks, which is pretty awesome,” Noelke said.

As of this month, Noelke added she is now able to purchase food for the Warrior Cupboard at a discounted price through Winona Volunteer Services. She said the WSU Foundation’s non-profit status helped make this possible for the Cupboard.

Noelke emphasized the Warrior Cupboard is not designed to provide students three meals a day, week after week. The goal is to “fill in the gaps” for hungry students and connect them with off-campus resources if they need further help.

The Warrior Cupboard still has some minor issues to work out, according to Noelke. She said she is certain the Cupboard’s team will figure these things out.

“We’re still getting our hands around what the actual need is because it may be that we continue as we have been,” Noelke said.

She said a small number of Winona State’s nearly 8,000 students use the service.

“Right now, we have 80 students who have access to this space,” Noelke said. “It may be within a year we have 1,000 students that need access to this space and then our fundraising efforts will have to reflect sort of how we support the amount of students that are taking advantage of the actual service.”

Noelke said despite having a few things to work out with the Warrior Cupboard, she is excited to watch it continue to grow.

“We have distributed 3,500 pounds of food and have donated, I think, close to $2,000 and this is individual donations,” Noelke said. “It’s been incredibly humbling, I think, to see this thing get up and running.”

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