By Sonja Hansen
Food-insecure students and their families will see several changes to the next “Food Pantry Pop-Up,” which will be hosted by Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) on April 13. The changes are aimed at countering the spread of coronavirus.
At the monthly pop-ups for students and their families, each attendee has the opportunity to pick out up to 150 lbs of food provided by Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley. The pop-ups have served an average of 323 children and adults per month since beginning on Aug. 26, according to R&DE spokesperson Jocelyn Breeland.
“Given the need to maintain social distancing, we have made some changes in the food distribution process,” Breeland told The Daily. “These changes are intended to protect the students and workers who participate.”
For the April pop-up, students will be required to fill out a sign-up form by April 8 so that RD&E can submit their food order to Second Harvest. Students who do not sign up by the April 8 deadline will not be permitted to pick up food.
On the sign-up form, attendees must select a half-hour time slot, during which they will arrive in person at Dudley Lane behind Building 49 in Escondido Village. A maximum of 20 people are allowed to pick up at any given half-hour slot.
People exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will not be permitted to attend, and those who have experienced a fever in the 24 hours prior to the event are asked to stay at home. Attendees have the option to designate a proxy on the sign-up form or by emailing assistant director Kahlil Wells in case they are unwell on the day of the event.
Michael Mara, a sixth-year Ph.D. student in computer graphics who frequently volunteered for the food pantry, raised concerns that requiring families to pick up groceries in person will lead to limited participation.
“This is probably going to be unfortunate for people that can’t make it there,” Mara said. “So I won’t be surprised if students try to put together some sort of mutual aid effort to deliver some of these boxes to people that are self-quarantining.”
Since March 12, Stanford community members have circulated a spreadsheet offering various resources amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Tuesday, there are over 100 student and alumni posts offering assistance with grocery shopping and transportation to grocery stores.
At the April pop-up, rather than allowing attendees to select food themselves, R&DE will instead hand a box of pre-selected food to patrons. Second Harvest has also opted for pre-selecting foods rather than allowing a “farmers-market style” at its own distribution sites, according to spokesperson Diane Baker-Hayward. Each person will receive one pre-packaged box of food, and families can request two boxes. Kosher food boxes will be made available if requested on the sign-up form.
R&DE is no longer permitting students to volunteer for the event. Instead, R&DE workers will run the pop-up.
“R&DE is grateful for the support of student volunteers who have provided essential support at past distributions,” Breeland wrote. “However, the April distribution will be entirely staffed by R&DE Stanford Dining employees who have received training and will follow specific protocols to keep everyone — students, staff and the community — safe.”
During the March pop-up, before the shelter-in-place order came into effect, Mara said that volunteers wore gloves and frequently used hand sanitizer in response to growing concerns over the coronavirus.
At the April pop-up, these measures will be extended. Sinks and hand sanitizer will be available at the entrance, and all participants will be required to remain six feet apart and to wash their hands before picking up a box.
Since the first pop-up in August, the food pantry has distributed a total of 61,588 pounds of food to undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students and their families. The service was initiated after a collaboration between R&DE, Second Harvest, the Graduate Student Council (GSC), the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) and Stanford Solidarity Network (SSN), an organization that advocates for student welfare.
Despite having served hundreds, there were doubts that the food pantry was reaching every family in need even before the shelter-in-place order, said Mara, a member of SSN. He added that it is difficult to estimate “the magnitude by which the number of food-insecure students will grow by in the coming weeks,” due to strained communication under the shelter-in-place order.
“A lot of the people that are most vulnerable and most likely to require more help are least likely to be on any kind of conference call [to ask for help],” Mara said. “There’s certainly people whose spouses have lost their income. And there’s also lots of people whose spouses weren’t allowed to work in the first place because they are international students on visas that disallow them from doing any work.”
One sign of the growing demand is apparent at Second Harvest. As one of the nation’s largest chains of food banks, Second Harvest regularly provides groceries to nearly 1,000 sites in both Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, including at all public colleges in the area. Some regular volunteers are considered at high risk of having a severe reaction to the coronavirus and have been asked to work from home, Baker-Hayward said. As a result, Second Harvest has seen a shortage of volunteers.
“Second Harvest is still in need of volunteers to help package boxes of food,” Baker-Hayward said. “We experienced a volunteer shortage when many companies ordered employees to work from home. We are grateful that members of the National Guard arrived on site last week to help us pack food, but we do still have volunteer shifts available at our Cypress Warehouse. Second Harvest is providing an essential service, so the public is allowed to volunteer.”
To further Second Harvest’s call for volunteers, SSN is organizing young, healthy community members and families who can wear proper protective equipment into teams of volunteers to distribute or package food at a bank. By filling out a Google Form, volunteers will be placed into teams of five or more with whom they will attend shifts together. SSN’s first team will begin work sometime this week.
Contact Sonja Hansen at smhansen ‘at’ stanford.edu.