Petey’s Pantry allows students experiencing food poverty to dine with dignity

“ I think it’s hard enough to get a degree here, but to do it while not knowing if you’ll have enough to eat… nobody should have to do that,” Hayes said in an email.

A selection of the goods available at Canisius' new food pantry (Tessa Pszonak/The Griffin)

When a student told Mike Hayes, Director of Campus Ministry, that they hadn’t eaten in two days, he was struck with concern. Hayes, who previously lobbied for SNAP and WIC public assistance programs, and usually volunteers at a soup kitchen or food bank, was surprised to find that food insecurity was such a problem on campus. 

“Pope Francis recently asked all of us if we have any friends who are experiencing poverty, or if we keep those experiencing poverty at a distance? In our case, I think it’s hard enough to get a degree here, but to do it while not knowing if you’ll have enough to eat…nobody should have to do that,” Hayes said in an email. 

Canisius was able to get the student a few staples to hold them over, but their struggle revealed a much greater concern on campus. Campus Ministry opened their first food pantry in an Old Main office near the tower walkway after this. However, Hayes said they struggled with people donating goods that were expired or not desired, and knew they could do better. 

“One of the issues with the old way we had to constantly look for expired food and while we had gracious donors to the old pantry, we really didn’t know if the food people were bringing was food that the people wanted,” Hayes added.

In an act of seeking magis, something better for the campus community, Campus Ministry, Student Life and Chartwells have come together for the new food pantry. The pantry, which operates in Palisano 002, looks like a store and is stocked with food from Aldi to give students a dignified way of getting the food they need.

Hayes says the pantry was designed this way “so people can come and choose what they want to eat, which also provides a great sense of dignity as well. They don’t just have to take what’s offered without any regard to what they want to eat. I love when people come in and say ‘Oh wow, this is nice! It looks like a store.’”

The new food pantry is part of the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), which helped provide guidance to the school on how to build a better pantry. Chartwells purchases the food and maintains the inventory. Workers are provided to the pantry from Campus Ministry and Student Affairs, and Student Life found the location and prepared it for use.

Food is purchased, rather than donated, mainly using collections from mass. Donations of cash or toiletry items are accepted. Students were able to contribute to Campus Ministry’s food initiatives during the Sit-Down Thanksgiving Dinner by donating meal swipes to the “Swipe Out Hunger” bank, which allowed students in need of a meal to use the swipes donated. 

The pantry is only available to students of Canisius College or SUNY Erie at this time, and ID is needed the first time you come. Students can access the pantry on Tuesdays 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Fridays 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., or Sundays 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The pantry is beyond the staircase near the esports lounge, located under Palisano. 

Use of the pantry is kept anonymous; students are provided a number after their first visit to use when they return, and drawstring bags are provided to carry the food and toiletries. Students are only asked that they not take all of any one item. 

For more information, visit Campus Ministry on the second floor of Old Main. 

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