Temple students discuss struggle to access food during COVID-19 outbreak

The Cherry Pantry was given a limited amount of time to move its operations to remain open as Main Campus closed earlier this month due the coronavirus pandemic.

The Cherry Pantry will now distribute "grab and go" grocery bags of food and essentials instead of using its previous point system. | KATHY CHAN / FILE PHOTO

Updated on April 1, 2020 at 5:00 p.m.

Before she got her job at the Philadelphia Flower Show, Desiree Sawyer’s only source of getting food was Cherry Pantry, Temple University’s on-campus food pantry. 

While working, she was able to buy her own groceries and expected to be transferred to work at the Philadelphia Zoo after the flower show was over.

But the zoo’s now closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Sawyer is back to relying on Cherry Pantry.

“I kinda need it a little bit more now,” said Sawyer, a junior actuarial science major. 

The university moved to online-only instruction on March 11 for the remainder of the spring semester due the outbreak. The Student Center, where the Cherry Pantry was housed, also closed due to the outbreak. This forced the pantry to remain open and move its location on Main Campus. Some students are now having to adjust to the new availability to access food during the pandemic.

The Cherry Pantry has relocated to the Temple Police substation in Morgan Hall South on Park Avenue near Cecil B. Moore. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Prior to the transition to online classes, Cherry Pantry was housed on the second floor of the Student Center. It was open Tuesdays and Wednesdays 1-5 p.m. and Thursdays 4-8 p.m. 

During online classes, the pantry, which has moved to the Temple Police substation in Morgan Hall South on Park Avenue near Cecil B. Moore. It will be open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Fridays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., according to a tweet from Temple Police. 

Cherry Pantry, which relies on donations to supply students, will give students a “grab and go” grocery bag of food during its online classes hours, replacing its old system of letting students “shop” and pick products based on a point system. This limits the amount of social interaction between students and the pantry, which helps limit the spread of COVID-19.

What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new coronavirus which was first discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It causes respiratory illnesses. The disease has since spread to dozens of countries, and on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of coronavirus a pandemic.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms of COVID-19 include a high fever, cough and shortness of breath. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that symptoms can be mild or severe and appear 2-14 days after being exposed to the disease.

The bags contain food items like oatmeal, cereal, canned protein, canned vegetables, soup, and fruit cups.

Sawyer wasn’t able to make it to the pantry during the first week of online classes. The new limited hours were either when she had class, or was just getting out of class, she said.

“This week I had leftover stuff, but I’m gonna try harder next week because it’s going to be a lot more difficult to get groceries myself,” she added.

In recent weeks, local grocers have seen an increased demand for food supplies as customers stock up during the spread of COVID-19, The Temple News reported. 

Produce shelves sit empty in the Progress Plaza Fresh Grocer on March 13. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS
Food Resources for Temple students during COVID-19
PhillyFoodFinder offers a map of food resources in the city for students who need help finding other food pantries in the city outside of Temple.

PhilAbundance, a nonprofit organization on Galloway Street near Pattison Avenue, has a similar food map on their site.

Share Food Program, a nonprofit on Hunting Park Avenue near Henry, offers food programming during COVID-19 to community distribution sites around Philadelphia, according to their website.

Bebashi Transition to Hope, a nonprofit social services organization about a mile south of Main Campus on Spring Garden Street near 13th, has food pantry hours on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 2-4 p.m. and Tuesdays 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., according to their Facebook account. .

In February, Temple’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice released a revised national report that stated an average rate of 43 percent of students at four-year institutions were food insecure. 

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the center released a report for colleges and universities recommending campus food pantries to work with local food banks and campus dining halls to communicate with students about alternative options before closing.

“The main message they need to hear is that they will have access to food,” the report stated.

University Housing and Residential Life sent an email to students on March 20 that meal plans for students who live off campus would stop March 20 and will be given prorated refunds by March 22. For those who were living on campus and had meal plans, refunds would be distributed by March 23.

Students who are staying on campus and have meal plans are able to eat at Morgan Hall’s dining hall, which now also has limited hours during online classes, according to a tweet from Temple Dining.

“In the transition through this, like, there’s been days where we’re not sure which hours and when things are open,” said Joseph Crespo, a junior financial planning major.

Morgan Dining Hall will remain open with limited hours for students who are staying on campus and have meal plans. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Crespo, who’s lost his student worker job at the pantry and was a residential assistant at the now-closed Johnson and Hardwick residence hall, also applied for a housing extension and has been relocated to live in Morgan Hall for the rest of the semester. 

Because he’s an RA, he’s had a meal plan this year and hasn’t had to rely on the pantry as much as he did last year, Crespo said. 

“I’ve kind of just went and bought food for myself, but thank god I have money right now but because I don’t have a job, and because I don’t know what’s coming and how much worse things are going to go, I have to, like, be very savvy at this moment,” he added.

What can you do prevent the spread of COVID-19?
The virus is mainly spread from person to person. This includes between people have been within six feet of each other or through respiratory droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes. To limit the spread, avoid close contact with people who are sick. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Wash your hands often with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 perecent alcohol. If you cough or sneeze, wash your hands immediately after.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Clean high-touch surfaces, like tabletops, doorknobs, toilets, keyboards and tablets. Use a household cleaner to disinfect the surfaces.

Nick Carmack, a senior sociology major, said he was worried not all students were receiving the communication about the Cherry Pantry’s changed hours and location.

“Especially students like myself who don’t have Wi-Fi, which are the same students who are needing to use the pantry,” Carmack said. 

Carmack, who formerly used Cherry Pantry and did outreach volunteer work for it, said he wished the pantry would have a team of employed staff, who could then organize food delivery to students during online classes. 

“This is a basic need that aren’t being met for students,” he said. “And because we’re in a crisis right now and everything’s changing, very different tactics need to be used to provide that basic need for students. And that’s not happening and that’s alarming.”

The Cherry Pantry will now be available to students on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Fridays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Temple Police substation in Morgan Hall South. | KATHY CHAN / FILE PHOTO
What to do if you are sick?
Stay home, avoid public areas and avoid public transportation if you feel sick. You should isolate yourself from people as much as possible and limit contact with pets and animals. You should call your doctor and schedule an apointment before visiting a doctor’s office, urgent care, etc. You or your doctor should alert a health department of your illness.
If you are sick, you should wear a facemask around other people. Cover your coughs and sneezes and wash your hands often for 20 seconds with soap and water.

Julia Olszewski, a freshman history and cultural anthropology major, used a weekly meal plan and Cherry Pantry while she was living in Morgan Hall for the first half of the semester.

“I already didn’t really know where it was, and then like switching it again, would just kind of be like ‘Oh my god, like, where is it?’” she said.

Olszewski’s now moved home to Roxborough, where she has access to food with her family. Still, she’s concerned for her peers who are staying around campus and relied on now-terminated meal plans, as they’re a “major source for a lot of people,” she added. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of the article did not accurately reflect the conditions in which Cherry Pantry moved its operations. It also did not include details as to why the pantry moved to a “grab-and-go” operation. This article has since been edited for accuracy and clarity.

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