Lion’s Pantry addresses student food insecurity, feeds student success

Penn State Mont Alto donor establishes endowment, provides permanent annual funding
Kirsten Tercek, Lions Pantry

Penn State Mont Alto student Kirsten Tercek labels and restocks the Penn State Mont Alto Lion’s Pantry.

Credit: Debra Collins

MONT ALTO, Pa. — Student food insecurity has been an increasing concern on the Penn State Mont Alto campus for some time. Staff and faculty have related stories of students coming to class inquiring about available free snacks because they did not or could not eat breakfast or lunch.

According to a January 2019 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, more than a third of college students across our nation struggle to afford food. Highlighting a national study from the Urban Institute last year, the report estimates 11 percent of households with a student in a four-year college experience food insecurity.

Not getting enough to eat can have a dramatic effect on students’ success. Their grades can suffer, their test scores may be lower, and overall, their chances of graduating are less.

Penn State Mont Alto is addressing this important issue with the opening of its new Lion’s Pantry. During fall term, a room in the Wiestling Student Center was renovated, lined with shelves and stocked with food. In January, the Lion’s Pantry opened to provide no-cost food to deserving students.

In addition, Marilynne Stout, a Penn State Mont Alto donor, has established an endowment to provide permanent, annual funding for the initiative. Because of Stout’s generous philanthropy, Mont Alto’s Lion’s Pantry will support hungry students in perpetuity.

The seed of the idea began with Mont Alto Academic Support Center Student Advocate Marla Minnich. Seeing the need first-hand, she began keeping grab-and-go-snacks in her drawer for students who mentioned being hungry.

“We know it is an issue, because students have been documented showing up to take tests on empty stomachs,” said Minnich. “And due to the fact that students face the stigma associated with not having enough money for food, we suspect it affects more students than we know.”

Minnich’s passion to help students with food insecurity grew into the establishment of a food closet, housed near the Academic Support Center in the General Studies Building.

The food closet drew the attention of Director of Student Affairs Curtis Hoover who wanted to take the initiative one step further. He asked Randall Ackerman, Penn State Mont Alto director of campus development, to explore the possibility of a permanent funding source.

As luck would have it, Ackerman had recently been contacted by Stout, who had read stories about college student food insecurity and wondered if it was a concern at the Mont Alto Campus. After looking into it, Ackerman said yes and suggested to Stout that philanthropic support would help Mont Alto staff address the issue.

Based on a long-term plan outlined by Hoover, Stout agreed to provide permanent, annual funding for the Lion Pantry through a program endowment.

The food closet was renamed the Lion’s Pantry – a term used by other Penn State campuses. Space was created in the central part of campus, Wiestling Hall, and now the Lion’s Pantry will always exist to support students facing food insecurity at Penn State Mont Alto.

“Food insecurity can affect students’ health negatively and impact their ability to succeed academically and graduate. The Lion’s Pantry is one way Penn State Mont Alto can support our students while they are working hard to earn their degrees,” said Hoover.