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With the holidays approaching, Point Park University’s student food pantry — Pioneer Pantry — is stocked up and ready for those who might now face greater food insecurity issues.

“The holiday season can be especially problematic for students,” said Veronika Panagiotou, M.S., the coordinator of the pantry and a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in community engagement. “Meal plans are winding down as the semester nears its end, and students with limited resources and chaotic home lives can find themselves struggling to eat as they try to focus on final exams.”

The pantry is fully stocked after purchasing another full order from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, to which the pantry is affiliated. In addition, orders placed by students this month will have a bonus — traditional Thanksgiving food items are being added.

“We are hoping that will get us through finals, but it’s our first semester with the pantry operational, so we don’t really know what kind of activity we’ll see,” Panagiotou said. “We will go get more food, if need be.”

According to Feeding America’s executive summary, Hunger in America 2014, one in 10 adults seeking assistance from the food bank network in the U.S. is a student. About 31 percent of students interviewed for that survey report being forced to choose between paying for food or their education.

A recent survey of more than 325 Point Park students found that about 38 percent of them have faced times during the school year where they did not have enough food for themselves or their households.

The pantry will be closed while students are on break the week of Thanksgiving, so the University’s Center for Student Success will have emergency food bags on hand and assisting students in need. That will include international students who will not be going home. 

Panagiotou said word is spreading about the pantry, and she’s hopeful that any students in need during the holidays won’t hesitate to seek help. She noted about 50 percent of the orders filled for October were first-time requests, so more students are reaching out.

“Students are realizing that we’re protecting their privacy, and that’s allowing us to gain their trust,” she said. “We haven’t heard about any problems or concerns from the students we are assisting.”

Students who make use of the Pioneer Pantry can simply go to the and fill out an online order. The website also tracks inventory, so students can select different categories and weigh their decisions based on what’s currently in stock. Once an order is submitted, volunteers put together the package and alert the student via text when it is ready to pick up. Those who take advantage of the pantry can receive up to 10 items twice a month. Students who need to use it more often will not be turned away, but must meet with a counselor so the University can determine if they require additional assistance.

“We definitely have the support of the University, and it’s comforting to know that if the need becomes so overwhelming that there is a system in place to make sure the Pioneer Pantry can help everyone in need,” Panagiotou said. “We have confidence in the community we’re building here.”

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