Pop-up pantry receives $5,000 donation as part of University Mall Giant reopening

Food on the shelves of the Mason Pop Up Pantry

Mason's pop-up pantry, which was created in December 2014, receives a boost from the University Mall Giant this week in the form of $5,000 in gift cards. File photo by Evan Cantwell.

A donation from a nearby grocery store will give George Mason University food pantry users access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

On Thursday, Feb. 9, George Mason’s pop-up food pantry will receive a $5,000 donation as part of the reopening of the Giant in University Mall.

According to John Cicchetti, assistant director for the Student Support and Advocacy Center and advisor to the pantry, the Giant Food Corporation makes charitable donations to the immediate community upon opening or reopening their stores. Giant representatives reached out to Mason during winter break with a desire to make a donation to the pantry, he said.

The donation will be provided in gift cards, which Gary Hooker, a student leader at the pantry, said will be available to the pantry’s current students, as well as future users.

The goal, according to Cicchetti, is to give students the opportunity to purchase healthier, perishable items, like fruits, vegetables and proteins, that the pantry is not certified to provide.

Started in late 2014, the food pantry has grown significantly in the past two years, now serving approximately 60 students from a permanent space in SUB I.

As the pantry continues to grow, so do the needs of the students who use it. The pantry used to operate mostly on canned food items, which Cicchetti says does not often meet students’ nutritional needs.

“People were clearing out their pantry of all these old canned goods … not necessarily thinking, ‘Is this what a student needs or really wants?’” Cicchetti said.

Instead, students are looking for meals and snacks that can be consumed on the go or microwaved on campus. According to student leader Mercy Waithaka, students are able to anonymously write their needs or requests on a whiteboard in the pantry that she, Hooker and student leader Noah Shoates can then communicate to potential donors.

Shoates said the pantry has seen an increase of food donations and warm beverages like coffee and tea, as well as hygiene products and toiletries that students may have difficulty accessing. But despite all this growth, many people still do not know the pantry exists or even what food insecurity is.

“There’s a stigma that surrounds food insecurity and homelessness and we want [people to understand] that people who experience it aren’t different from anyone else,” Shoates said.

He hopes the pantry will soon be included on class syllabi, along with all the other resources available to students, in an effort to increase communication and awareness about it on campus.

“I want to one day service all the students that are food insecure on this campus, and we have a big student body … but we have the resources, people are asking to help and want to donate,” Hooker said.

In the future, Hooker hopes the pantry’s reach can extend beyond the Mason community.

For more information about the food pantry, visit their website.