ALVA, Okla. — Established just one semester ago at its flagship Alva campus, Northwestern Oklahoma State University's food pantry program has doubled in use, and the college is looking to expand the program to its other locations.

When the Campus Cabinet opened in January, it averaged between three to five visitors per weekly Wednesday opening, coordinator Angelia Case said. The number has been closer to 10 or 11 in the weeks since the fall semester started, and according to the university, 879 pounds of food, hygiene products and bedding have been distributed to students and staff.

"I see people who are here wanting to better themselves and it's taking all the resources they have just to be here, pay their tuition, get their books, and they don't have a lot left," Case said.

Need is clearly there, she said. It's hard put a number on it, though the university tried in spring 2018 with a campus survey.

Nearly half of NWOSU-Alva's students said there had been times at school when they didn't have enough food, and 50 percent said they knew somebody in such a situation.

Clientele is increasing, and Case credits more awareness of the program among faculty and the student body. Often, first-timers to the Campus Cabinet arrive after encouragement from coaches and instructors, she said.

There is no need to prove financial hardship for registration, only proof of enrollment for students or proof of employment for staff.

According to a 2018 USDA study, 15.6 percent of Oklahomans were defined as food insecure, meaning they had limited or unreliable access to food for financial reasons. Oklahoma was one of 12 states above the national average of 11.1 percent.

Northwestern's Woodward campus is preparing to launch a pantry of its own, a move nudged along by members of the NWOSU Single Parent Support Network, SPSN coordinator Kristin Mravinec said.

"Our single parents thought a food pantry would be a good way to help and support students in need," she said.

To get things off the ground, the Woodward campus will be accepting non-perishable food donations throughout October.

“Northwestern Oklahoma State University cares about the well-being of our students, whether it’s intellectual, emotional, mental or physical,” Deena Fisher, Woodward campus dean, said. “Having a safety net when it comes to basic human needs is one way that we can help our students.”

Enid has talked about instituting a similar program, dean Wayne McMillin said. But if the campus does decide to follow Alva's example, it is uncertain at this point when it will do so.

"We are just in the preliminary stages," McMillin said. "There are plans to have a cabinet here in Enid and to try and have something similar on a smaller scale on our campus."

However, he said, while it has proven "wildly popular" in Alva, there are unique factors to be considered in Enid.

"Because of the services provided in the community, our situation is a little different. We have Loaves & Fishes and things like that readily available," he said. "Sometimes you don't want to get too gung ho about it when there are already services and you don't want to duplicate them."

The degree of need is uncertain, McMillin said. How well needs are being met by already established resources in the community is uncertain. So, it is also uncertain how much use a food pantry at NWOSU's Enid campus would see.

"Is there a need for it? Maybe we should be investigating that and then move forward with our plans," he said.

Campus Cabinet opens 5-7 p.m. every Wednesday in Shockley Hall, room 108, at NWOSU-Alva. Registration forms and additional information is available at www.nwosu.edu/campus-cabinet.

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Willetts is education and city reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Mitchell? Send an email to mwilletts@enidnews.com.

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