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Lion’s Pantry Continues Serving Students In Need Amid Pandemic

When students were sent home and Penn State switched to remote learning last spring, State College was a quiet, isolated place. Most restaurants and downtown shops eventually closed their doors, while dozens of events were canceled or postponed.

One place, however, didn’t have the option to cease operating. Students who remained in Happy Valley continued to rely on Penn State’s Lion’s Pantry for free resources and assistance during this unpredictable time.

“Following Penn State’s closure, we were serving around 80 students per week, and a couple of weeks, we saw over 100 students,” Communications and Advocacy Coordinator Sarah Hohman said.

Hohman, who studies health policy and administration, began working for the pantry in 2018 with the aim of improving its website and social media presence.

She said the coronavirus pandemic has added a level of stress and pressure to the organization’s operations and daily work. Ultimately, though, it’s been able to adapt to the circumstances and advance the pantry’s mission.

“I am immensely proud of the Lion’s Pantry for how it has navigated this uncertain time, ensuring that students in need are put first and continue to be served,” Hohman added.

Initially, Penn State faculty and staff filled the vacated roles of student volunteers in order to keep the Pantry open during the remote period. During the summer, an AmeriCorps member took over this responsibility.

Currently, Hohman said the pantry is staffed by its director and managers, as well as other internal volunteers. This is a stark difference from previous semesters when any Penn State student or organization could participate in volunteer opportunities.

Hohman said the pantry has also implemented various guidelines and practices based on Penn State and CDC recommendations. She wants both the volunteers and students who visit the Pantry to know that the facility is clean and safe.

“The pantry has been extremely committed to following our developed protocols, which include strict mask wearing, social distancing, increased sanitization and facility cleanings, and limited capacity of staff and clients at one time,” she said.

Although in-person walk-in hours ended in October, the staff continues to make sure students have a wide variety of options available to them to access food items and toiletries.

Not only can they have these items delivered directly to their doorstep, but they can also pre-order for pickup at the Pantry or Abba Java downtown using the Lion’s Pantry’s website.

When ordering online, students must indicate the items they are interested in, as well as their access to various cooking tools and appliances. Orders must be placed one shift ahead of time, and students will receive a confirmation email when their bag is ready.

So far this semester, Hohman and the rest of the staff at the pantry have been serving roughly 60 students per week. They will remain open during the remote period between Thanksgiving and Christmas and hope to go back to offering in-person services in the foreseeable future.

But regardless of the fact that there is an ongoing global pandemic, the purpose and mission of the Lion’s Pantry remain the same as when it first opened in 2014.

“The Lion’s Pantry is continuously expanding our education and outreach efforts to ensure that one day, student hunger won’t exist on our campus,” Hohman said. “It is important to us that every student knows about the Lion’s Pantry so that if they or someone they know is in need, they can be directed to our services.”

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About the Author

Rory Pelella

Rory is a senior from Binghamton, New York majoring in Spanish and journalism. She's been bleeding blue and white ever since her older siblings decided to create a family dynasty in Happy Valley in 2006. So, as you can imagine, she loves absolutely everything Penn State (especially the Cheese Shoppe downtown). She's also a die-hard Yankees, Knicks, and Giants fan (it's brutal), and would do anything for a good old fashioned New York slice. Feel free to email her at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @rorypelella.

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