By Sarah Farrugia Campus Food Pantry & Food Security Coordinator
In the lower level of 102 Bedford Street on the Portland Campus, convenient but discreet, the Oakhurst Campus Food Pantry (OCFP) provides essential resources to the USM community to fight food insecurity and meet the basic needs of students, faculty and staff. Beginning as a student passion project in the Fall of 2015, the Pantry’s team has grown to include a small but mighty team of student workers, community volunteers and, as of September 2022, its first full-time coordinator.
In addition to typical non-perishable Pantry staples, OCFP offers a wide range of food, household and personal goods including cold and frozen food items, menstrual products, food storage containers and more! All food sections include dietary responsive alternatives like gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, and nut-free options. Pantry patrons have the option of shopping for items in-person at the Portland Campus location or placing an online pre-order, with delivery available on all three USM campuses (Portland, Gorham, and Lewiston-Auburn).
To best meet the needs of our community, OCFP uses a self-assessed need model; we believe individuals should have the autonomy to determine their current level of need and be empowered with accessible, equitable, and inclusive resources to alleviate and eliminate their need. There is no paperwork to fill out or expectation that you must “prove” your current need in order to access the Pantry. All you need is your cu
rrent University of Maine System (UMS) ID. There is no limit on how often you can access the Pantry’s resources. Pantry regulars include undergraduate and graduate students, domestic and international students, and university staff and faculty. What was once supplemental for many people has become a resource they regularly depend upon.
Mirroring trends we see at the national level, OCFP has experienced a steady increase in need over the past 3 years. In 2022, the Pantry distributed over 11,880 pounds of food and, if current trends continue, we project this number to at least double in 2023. Since January 2023, we have already distributed over 17,800 pounds of food and 3,000 household/personal products over 1,560 individual visits. In comparison, over the same time period last year, the Pantry distributed just over 4,475 pounds of food and 955 household/personal products over 370 individual visits.
To keep the shelves stocked, OCFP relies 100% on donations, shopping weekly at Market Basket, Dollar Tree, and BJ’s Wholesale for pantry staples. Now more than ever, OCFP depends on campus and community partners to supplement their stock and keep resources available despite the increase in need. OCFP launched an Amazon Wishlist in February 2023, giving us the ability to highlight/prioritize high need items while simplifying the donation process. Donations are delivered directly to the pantry within 3-5 days after purchase.
In Summer 2020, OCFP partnered with Good Shepherd Food Bank, the largest hunger relief non-profit organization in Maine. This partnership allows the Pantry to purchase recovered food at an extremely reduced rate (as low as $0.14/lb) while reducing food waste in the community.
This past Fall, in partnership with the USM Foundation, Oakhurst Dairy announced they would be donating $125,000 of in-kind products to the Pantry over the next five years. In recognition of this generous donation, the Pantry officially became The Oakhurst Campus Food Pantry at the University of Southern Maine. Various Oakhurst products are ordered and delivered to the Pantry weekly on Tuesdays and have quickly become a fan favorite amongst Pantry patrons.
Born out of high demand, OCFP officially launched its volunteer program in the fall of 2022, offering flexible shifts, a one-time or ongoing volunteer commitment, family friendly space (kids are welcome), and a quiet work environment. OCFP had welcomed over 30 new volunteers by the end of the Spring 2023 semester, logging over 150 volunteer hours!
Follow OCFP on instragram @USMcampusfoodpantry or reach out via email at [email protected].