Food program for staff members sees demand

Volunteers help make program possible

March 21, 2022
Author: Imran Ghori
March 21, 2022

A new program providing UC Riverside staff members with free groceries has become a dependable source for employees looking for a little extra help.

The Staff Pantry, a partnership between UCR Staff Assembly and UCR’s Basic Needs department, began with a fall launch and two pop-up events. Since January, they’ve been held every other week outside the Pentland Hills Residence Hall.

Just as R’Pantry aids students facing food insecurity by providing food and hygiene products, Staff Pantry is aimed at helping employees who may be facing hardship.

Dante Kruise, Staff Pantry coordinator, said the program relies on student, staff, and faculty volunteers who help pack and distribute the food and other items.

"The great turnouts at the staff pantry events highlight a need for support for staff on campus,” he said.

The preparations begin two days in advance, with volunteers preparing 200 double paper bags, sorting purchased and donated dry goods, and filling up plastic containers with rice and granola. The bags are placed on wooden pallets and then loaded into a truck that takes them to the distribution site.

Each bag contains more than a dozen different nonperishable items such as cereal, cake mix, sugar, oil, and coffee provided through Feeding America. Fresh produce from a local vendor and R’Garden is packed into crates and boxes.

By Thursday at 2 p.m., volunteers have 200 bags of dry goods prepared and boxes of fresh produce to choose from on tables for staff members who have lined up outside Pentland Hills. The location, near the roundabout, allows staff members to walk or drive up.

Regina Gonzalez, a classroom assistant with Childhood Services, was among those picking up groceries at the Feb. 24 pop-up.

She’s been coming to the Staff Pantry pop-ups regularly and told her co-workers about it.  Gonzalez was among the employees who kept working on campus during the pandemic when most staff members were remote. But some of her co-workers were temporarily laid off or had their hours reduced.

“It really helps us out, especially when you’re on a budget,” she said. “We love the food. It’s good quality.”

Alexandria Salazar, a senior custodian with Facilities Services, said it helps her and her parents. They especially enjoy the produce, which has inspired her parents to cook soups, she said.

“It’s all of the useful things we need,” she said. “When it comes from the garden, it’s so fresh. I love it.”

Student Iliana Perez, a 21-year-old political science major, was among the volunteers at the Feb. 24 event. She said she’s long wanted to get more involved in volunteering on campus.

“It warms my heart seeing these people coming out today,” Perez said.

Staff members using the pantry were asked to fill out an online survey about the program and what food items they found useful so that organizers can make improvements based on the feedback.

The pantry program was made possible through $134,000 in federal emergency relief funds approved by Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth Watkins.

Jeff Girod, UCR Staff Assembly president, said they hope to make the program, which is funded through the spring quarter, an ongoing one.

He said the program has shown a great demand among staff, especially those working part-time, who earn the least and are the most financially vulnerable. 

The next Staff Pantry will be held Thursday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Next month, they will switch to Fridays, April 8 and 22, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Volunteers can sign up for the April events here.