Student volunteers increase food pantry access for their peers

DeAnna Wardwell '22 with food items for the MCLA Food Pantry.

A group of MCLA student volunteers have devised new ways for their peers to access the College’s food pantry while complying with COVID-19 restrictions. 

“With all of the changes that MCLA has had to make to ensure that faculty and students are kept safe and healthy, we felt that it was important for us to do the same,” said Shelby Dempsey '21, a history and political science major who has been involved with the pantry, and the MCLA Volunteer Center, for most of her time at MCLA.

Shelby Dempsey, left, and Spencer Moser.Thanks to Dempsey, DeAnna Wardwell ’22, and MCLA Director of Civic and Community Engagement Spencer Moser, there is now an online pick-up service that students can access via an online form. Students can choose a time to pick up their food order, and volunteers coordinate orders. “It’s an excellent way for us to follow social distancing guidelines while also ensuring students are getting the food they need,” Dempsey said. 

Since it opened in 2017, the MCLA Food Pantry, located in the Amsler Campus Center, has distributed hundreds of pounds of donated foods, frozen meals from MCLA Dining, and other needed supplies to hundreds of students. The pantry is accessed anonymously; until the pandemic imposed new guidelines, students would ask for a food pantry key at the information kiosk on the main floor of the campus center, then note what they took so the student volunteers could keep accurate inventory.

For the 2020 holiday season, the MCLA Office of Advancement ran a food security drive, asking MCLA alumni to donate toward holiday meals for students and stocking the pantry. As of Dec. 2, it had raised over $3,000 from 33 donors. Moser said the pantry had more than 30 applications for the funds right away. "This is a timely and needed resource for our students," he said. "Through the applications they have been submitting, we're learning more about what our students need—and we're learning that they feel a need to contribute to their families and household expenses."

According to a 2020 survey of 1.5 million college students from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, 48 percent of community college students and 41 percent of four-year university students are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to food. Moser said MCLA's own food insecurity statistics are on par with the national study.

About half of MCLA’s students are eligible to receive a Pell Grant, which are awarded to those who display exceptional financial need in order to attend a college or university. The pandemic has caused additional economic hardship for college students and their families nationwide, including students at MCLA, making food pantry access even more crucial. 

To spread the word about food insecurity and the pantry, Dempsey has also created a Facebook page where she shares important information about food access as well as on- and off-campus resources. Dempsey and Wardwell also held a logo contest, encouraging students to vote on design submissions (the winning logo is featured below).

MCLA community members and others are encouraged to donate to the food pantry. The volunteers will accept shelf-stable items like pasta and canned goods, as well as bread, peanut butter, and small snacks. Donations of nonfood items like toothbrushes and deodorant are also accepted. To learn more, email

Visit the MCLA Food Pantry on Facebook.

If you are an MCLA student who would like to order food, click here.

To donate directly to the MCLA Food Bank, text MCLA to 91999 or go to and select “Food Security Fund” to make an impact this holiday season.

Food Pantry logo

Suggested Donations for the MCLA Food Pantry

Food items:

  • bag of plain bagels
  • box of any pasta
  • box of rice
  • box of any kind of mac and cheese
  • box of any cereal
  • oatmeal
  • ritz crackers (small snack sleeves)
  • shelf stable microwavable meals
  • granola bars
  • applesauce
  • fruit cups
  • individual small boxes of raisins
  • cans of chicken, tomato, vegetable, stew and chowder soup
  • any size or kind of pasta sauce in a jar
  • any flavor jams
  • peanut butter 

Nonfood items:

  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • pads
  • tampons
  • deodorant