It can be difficult for many to see past what is on their own plate. For Northern Arizona University students and staff involved with Louie’s Cupboard, filling the plates of others is a mission.
Louie’s Cupboard is an on-campus food pantry run by the Office of the Dean of Students and student volunteers. The food pantry is open to NAU students, faculty and staff free of cost on bi-weekly distribution days. According to the Louie’s Cupboard website, applicants must fill out a form prior to a distribution date or request a walk-in appointment in order to participate.
Louie’s Cupboard started as a class project in 2012 and has now grown into a university funded solution to campus food insecurity. In the 2018-19 academic school year, the food pantry provided 1,024 unique food-receiving experiences--more than doubling that same figure recorded the previous academic year. Louie’s Cupboard Alumni President Lily Davis attributes the growth to recent efforts made by the program.
“Think about it. Let’s assume that roughly 25 percent of students could benefit from receiving free food,” Davis said. “That’s a lot more than the (approximately) 150 participants we were seeing at our distributions -- which is why we are trying to spread the word and reach more students.”
Co-President of Louie’s Cupboard Kylie Malilay said the program has been promoting its service more than ever.
“Whether it’s emails to professors, tabling outside of the Hot Spot (campus dining hall) on distribution days, or simply having volunteers spread the word, we are really trying to get the word out,” Malilay said. “We tell people, ‘You can get food right now.’”
Malilay said while they are pleased that the efforts to promote the service have been successful, with the new increase in participants comes a growing need for volunteers and donations. Even small donations of unwanted food or volunteering on distribution days can be vital to sustaining the growth.
“I would also urge everybody that is involved in different clubs or communities on campus to collaborate with us on events,” Malilay said.
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One way that Louie’s Cupboard has handled the influx of participants is relocating to a larger space. The program used to operate out of the First-Generation offices but has since reallocated to the Office of the Dean of Students in the University Union. The food pantry itself now has a permanent home in room 212 of the University Union.
The increase in space has allowed Louie’s Cupboard to completely rethink how they distribute food. Davis explained that the program now offers a free shopping experience for participants. This has helped the program cut down on waste and cater to participants' needs on an individual basis.
“When (Louie’s Cupboard) first started we were essentially distributing premade boxes out of a utility closet,” Davis said. “Now we can provide people a shopping experience where they can choose a certain number of meats, veggies, soups and more.”
Another benefit of operating under the Office of the Dean of Students is that the program now has an official program coordinator, Sandra McCurry, employed by NAU to oversee the operation.
“I only took the program over a few months ago, but I have already seen how the program is changing,” McCurry said.
McCurry added the program is looking to install a keycard reader for student IDs to verify that participants are NAU students. By replacing the online submission form with a reader, the program can also acquire new insight into the demographic using the service.
NAU students, faculty and staff are invited to participate in the next food distribution date on Sept. 20. Potential volunteers and donors can find more information online at the Louie's Cupboard website.