DANBURY, Connecticut — When administrators at Western Connecticut State University approached student leaders about a need for a food pantry to serve students enduring hardships, three young adults stepped up to take the lead to make the project their top priority. These student leaders had already realized that such a service was necessary for some of the student body.
Thanks to their hard work and the efforts of others at the university, the WCSU Food Pantry was opened in the Wolves Den (part of the Student Center) on the Midtown campus in spring 2023. The project grew from the concerns and support of administrators and the dreams of the original three students to a reality supported by the entire campus and surrounding community in just a few months. Today, the WCSU Food Pantry is in need of donations of non-perishable foods and personal care items.
“University administrators, including Student Affairs, confirmed that there was a need for a self-sustaining food pantry here,” said Michael Azzi ’24, of New Fairfield, president of the Student Government Association (SGA). “This prompted me to meet with several clubs on campus to see if they would be willing to help donate and fundraise for a permanent WCSU Food Pantry. Karla Matos ’23, of Danbury, chairperson of the SGA Philanthropy Committee and an SGA senator at the time, was very interested, and so a workgroup was put together including WCSU Division of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs personnel, SGA members and advisers, and several administrative and faculty members.”
After significant brainstorming, meetings and reaching out to the community, the pantry was established, with the SGA overseeing its operations and securing donated items. One helpful sponsor is Community Food Rescue, a Danbury-based organization that sources food from local stores and distributes to organizations that feed the hungry.
Along with Azzi and Matos, Emily Kappel ’25, of Brookfield, an SGA representative, is the pantry’s co-founder, co-coordinator and driving force. They are joined by several volunteers in operating the WCSU Food Pantry when it is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Here, students can find non-perishable foods, sanitary products and cleaning supplies. Any student in need can visit the pantry once a week. The food pantry’s shelving and cases are donated by Sodexo, the university’s contracted meal provider.
Azzi said the SGA was serious about quickly establishing a food pantry on campus because “as the primary representatives for the student body, it is our responsibility to ensure that all student needs are met.” He indicated that the SGA received tremendous help from the Division of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs as well as John Murphy, director of Event and Conference Management and an SGA adviser, for finding the original space and offering other support. “A huge thank you also goes to Karla and Emily – they have been beyond instrumental in getting the food pantry off the ground. Their dedication to the project is commendable, and their passion for helping others is beyond inspiring,” said Azzi, a Justice and Law Administration major.
“As a mom and student, I know how difficult it can be to afford food while attending college, working a part-time or full-time job, paying bills and other responsibilities. I became involved in this project because I am passionate about helping students,” said Matos, a Nursing major. “In the past, I have used my SGA budget to bring toiletries and detergent to students living on campus because I knew this was a necessity among resident students. Many of our students struggle financially and with food insecurity, and the hope is to lighten the burden for them,” she said. Matos explained that students can receive up to 20 items a week in one visit, confidentially.
Research by nonprofit agencies has found that nearly 500,000 Connecticut residents struggle with hunger and food insecurity (Connecticut Foodshare), the percentage of Connecticut adults who say they did not have enough money to buy food has nearly doubled during the past year, and approximately 11 percent of white, 25 percent of Black, and 34 percent of Latino adults reported food insecurity in the past year (DataHaven).
“Western Connecticut State University and the Student Government Association care about the students’ well-being and are committed to helping in any way we can. In addition, we are working on bringing more items to the food pantry to accommodate those who might have dietary restrictions or need toiletry supplies, and Student Affairs has gift cards to Stop and Shop for those with dietary restrictions that are not met with the food pantry’s items,” Matos said. She noted that it makes her happy to help others, especially since she remembers how food pantries supported her and her parents, who now give back by donating to pantries here and abroad.
Matos said the entire university is coming together to help the Food Pantry. “The faculty/staff union and faculty have committed to making special donations. Sororities have dropped of supplies, Sodexo is looking into giving us a freezer to expand the types of items we can provide, and a department has expressed that they would like to anonymously donate vouchers to Sodexo so students can get fresh-cooked meals.” She noted that supplies are still needed, especially as the WCSU Food Pantry has had dozens of students come by in the short time that it has been open. After careful studies, the group found that breakfast items, feminine hygiene products, cleaning supplies and long-lasting food are the most needed items by students.
Kappel, dual majoring in Managerial Accounting and Computational and Applied Mathematics, said she was not surprised that college students deal with food insecurity, having experienced it herself. “I worry though that people may not come due to the stigma, so that is why we have a confidential system,” she said.
The process from idea to fruition was long, well-researched and planned, according to Kappel. “There were weekly Food Pantry Working Group meetings, and collaborations with the Philanthropy Committee, Student Affairs and SGA advisers to determine which food items we would order, creating an inventory track sheet and helping to transform a portion of the Wolves Den into the WCSU Food Pantry,” she explained. For her, it was a passion project. “I know just how difficult it can be to focus on academics when all you can think about is whether there will be enough money to pay the bills this month or when will you be able to eat your next meal. To compound this, low-income individuals endure great stigma, and many government programs don’t consider extenuating circumstances, leaving a large gap in those who receive the assistance they need. This is one of the primary reasons we decided to open the WCSU Food Pantry to all students. I hope that it will help alleviate the struggles of those facing food insecurity so that they have a better chance of succeeding academically without worrying about their next meal,” Kappel said.
The WCSU Food Pantry held a soft opening in March, and has been open ever since. For more information about the food pantry and items needed/available, email email@example.com.
“Students should remember that the WCSU Food Pantry is run by students for students, and is an absolutely safe and confidential experience. No judgment is passed on what items are taken, or how often it is used. Please do not be intimidated or discouraged from utilizing it as a primary resource in your lives,” Azzi wanted students to know. “That sentiment is a reflection of WCSU’s and the SGA’s overall commitment to helping students and making sure your needs are met.”
For these three students, Western Connecticut State University is a family affair, which helps them better get a pulse on what students need. Azzi’s older sister Arianna graduated from WCSU in 2019, and his younger sister Sara is currently a junior here, while Mato’s sister Yanna will graduate in 2024 (both are first-generation college students in this country) and Kappel’s siblings Anneliese ’16 and Matthew ’19 are WCSU alumni. Family looks out for each other, as WCSU demonstrates with the new Food Pantry.
For more information, contact WCSU Communications and Marketing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Western Connecticut State University changes lives by providing all students with a high-quality education that fosters their growth as individuals, scholars, professionals and leaders in a global society. Our vision: To be widely recognized as a premier public university with outstanding teachers and scholars who prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.