By Marina Garnica, FPU Marketing Strategist
What once was a student housing unit snuggled alongside the picturesque Forest on the main Fresno Pacific University campus is now a central hub for distributing food and more to those in need.
The new Sunbird Pantry is a definite step up from its former location—a two-car garage at 4847 E. Heaton Ave., a university-owned house on the southeast side of campus. The pantry first opened in the fall of 2016 as Loaves and Fishes, with six cans of food in a closet in the Office of Spiritual Formation, moving to the house in February 2018.
The idea for the revamped pantry comes from Brian Davis, campus chaplain, and Amanda Wall, director of residence life. Wall attended a conference in the summer of 2022 on networking and growth opportunities, which served as a catalyst for the creation of Food Pantry 2.0. “There, I learned a lot more about food pantries and the need and how it really benefits a campus,” she says. “A little fire was lit.”
After that conference the torch passed from the Office of Spiritual Formation (OSF) to the Residence Life Office, with Wall now overseeing the pantry’s operations and its “wellness” options—because it’s not just the food students find here. The new location comes with a full kitchen, a lounge for quiet time, a shower and restroom. There’s also a new mothers’ room or sensory space, where students will find a unique area with a rocking chair, toys for children and a refrigerator.
“We’re trying to offer more elements of wellness, too,” Wall says. “I want our students to know where it is and be able to access it and I really want to erase those stigmas that you have to be in a certain category to use it. That’s my goal—to turn this into a wellness center.”
For now, the pantry is open by appointment. Wall’s goal is to increase the flow of donations to provide budget for hiring one or two students to help keep the space open for longer and more consistent hours. Meanwhile 21 of the new grab-and-go boxes have been handed out and, according to Wall, “So far they are a hit.”
Because FPU is a private university, it does not receive direct state or federal funding, so Sunbird Pantry relies on donations and a portion of the student activities fee to replenish its shelves. A recent private donation of $1,000 was the first since November of 2021, when Luis Chavez, member of the Fresno City Council, gave $1,500.
Stocking the pantry through the end of each semester is the next step. “We spend probably close to $300 every two weeks,” says Taylor Starks, assistant director of spiritual formation and diversity.
For now, food boxes include items like rice, oatmeal, beans, canned vegetables, canned fruit and macaroni and cheese. Students are also able to choose additional items deemed essential. But there could be more options on the table, Wall says, like fresh fruits and vegetables. “We’re trying to stock it with non-perishables, so that students can prepare a well-rounded couple of meals,” she says. “We’re still in the trial-and-error phase.”
A university survey shows that 79% of students who have used the pantry within the last month are residents. The rest are commuters. Some 64% of students surveyed said that at least once a week, they skip meals because they don’t have enough food or money to purchase groceries.
For now, OSF is connecting with community organizations like the Central California Food Bank to provide the pantry with an assortment of items and, more importantly, fresh produce. Through an annual membership, FPU could open the door to a wide variety of fresh food. “We’d be saving a lot of money and maximizing the money that donors are providing to the university, so that could be really helpful,” Wall says.
FPU is also looking into a farmers’ market-type experience on campus. That idea is welcome news for Mary Anne Rabanal, a fourth-year business administration major. Rabanal, who has volunteered with the pantry since arriving at FPU, says a farmers’ market is something students would also appreciate. “I think that is something people would really like because when you have all these things in front of you, like fresh produce, where you can just pick and pull, it’s better than from a can,” she says.
Rabanal agrees with the vision that Wall and others have for the pantry and says that donations, food and volunteerism will rise to meet the challenge. It’s an “if you build it, they will come” type mentality for Wall. “The food pantry has garnered a really positive response. What we can do as a community,” she adds, “is to continue to encourage students to use it.”
If you are a student and would like to request a box of food, or if you would like to volunteer or donate, please email Amanda Wall at Amanda.Wall@fresno.edu. More about the pantry at fresno.edu/undergraduate/campus-life/student-support/sunbird-food-pantry
PHOTO: Cheyenne Cade, senior, and Enzo Peraggine, sophomore, prepare food boxes at Sunbird Pantry before distributing to students. (Photo by Marina Garnica)