Fresh for All

Fresh for All

On-campus Philabundance site gives students, community members access to free produce
Rowan students (from left) Olivia Dellston, Desireee Durham and Brieanna Sanchez regularly volunteer on Fridays at the Philabundance site on Rowan's campus. The site is open year round.

On a sunny, chilly morning, Rowan University students Desiree Durham, Olivia Dellston and Brieanna Sanchez looked out at the line of folks happily bagging up fresh fruits and vegetables.

They each saw something different.

“I see community when I come here,” Durham said.

“I see diversity, age-wise and racially,” Dellston said.

“I see care,” Sanchez said. “It’s just people just caring about others. It’s people being unselfish.”

That’s the vibe every Friday from 10-11 a.m. at Fresh for All, a free produce market presented by Philabundance in Parking Lot D at the corner of Bowe Boulevard and Carpenter Street on Rowan’s Glassboro campus.

The Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization, Philabundance distributes food to 90,000 people weekly across nine counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Rowan distribution site, which opened last October, is the first partnership between the non-profit agency and a college or university.

On Rowan’s campus, volunteers from Philabundance, The SHOP (Students Helping Other Profs), Rowan’s on-campus food pantry and resource center for students, the Student Government Association, and the Office of Volunteerism, Community Engagement and Commuter Services work together to distribute 1,500 pounds or more of food weekly to those who need it.

Addressing food insecurity

The Fresh for All distribution helps anyone who faces food insecurity. That includes Rowan students. Rowan has been proactive in addressing food insecurity among students. Hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide have started food pantries to address hunger on campus.

In 2016, in order to gain insights to challenges faced by students that impede their success  in the classroom, Rowan’s Affordability Task Force surveyed 6,000 students and asked them about a host of issues, including food insecurity, their ability to buy textbooks, the hours they work, and their housing and childcare situations.

Of the respondents, 51 percent stated that they had to cut the size of their meals—or skip a meal—during that semester at least once and sometimes 10 times or more. Furthermore, 44 percent of the respondents indicated they did not eat because they did not have enough food.

According to Penny McPherson-Myers, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, studies show that food insecurity rates among college students are more than double the national average. Students with food insecurity experience a lack of focus, concentration and energy, emotional distress, and often struggle academically, she notes.

In spring of 2017, The SHOP opened on Rowan’s campus, providing students with non-perishable food and personal care items. Donations keep the shelves of The SHOP well stocked.

But The SHOP does not have the space or the refrigeration to supply fruits and vegetables for students. Philabundance stepped in to address that need by moving the Fresh for All location from a site at the Glassboro VFW to the parking lot on Rowan’s campus, an easily accessible, central location in the borough.

Now, students can simply walk to the location off Carpenter Street as they join with community members each Friday to receive fresh foods. Clients do not need to show identification at the Fresh for All site. Participation in the program does not affect government benefits.

Altogether, upwards of 100 people take advantage of the free service, according to Sanchez, who serves as the site’s undergraduate coordinator.

‘We need to take care of each other’

Generally, half of those using the service are students, according to Dellston, who is the unofficial counter clicker, bag distributor and greeter at the site. Each distribution day, Dellston stands at the front of the line, greeting community members with a smile and a kind word.

“Everyone is really friendly,” says Dellston, a senior liberal studies major who wants to become a social worker for LBGTQ+ youth. “Everyone needs to eat nutritious food and people can’t always afford produce. We need to take care of each other.”

At the distribution table, Durham, a senior accounting major, and Sanchez, a sophomore psychology major, stood side by side devoted—and cheerful—Philabundance volunteers, happily bagging up bananas, avocados, onions, lemons, cantaloupes and more for community members and students.

Any food items that are not claimed are transported to The SHOP, where Rowan students can access them every Friday from noon-3 p.m. 

“Potatoes are popular. And, also, onions. They’re really universal. You can store them for a long time,” said Sanchez, who grew up volunteering at a food bank with her parents. “In the fall, we also had turkeys, milk and yogurt.

“This made me realize there’s more food insecurity than I thought,” continued Sanchez, who is eyeing graduate school and a career as a clinical child psychologist. “A lot of people come here and then go and share with other families.”

‘A strong sense of community’

According to Sanchez, more than 300 people have volunteered to help at the distribution site. Each week, five or more Rowan students volunteer with set up, distribution and site breakdown. Some, like Durham, return week after week, Sanchez said.

“I wanted to get more involved on campus,” said Durham, who worked at Fresh for All every Friday throughout Rowan’s winter break. “I like giving back.”

“There’s a genuine sense of helping others here, which is really rewarding,” Sanchez added. “It’s nice to see the community coming out alongside students. Everyone is so thankful. And the community volunteers are super fun.”

The Fresh for All site at Rowan has been a tremendous success due in very large part to a strong spirit of volunteerism, according to Hilary Stiebel, manager of programs for Philabundance.

“Business is great at the Rowan site,” Stiebel said. “Having consistent and committed volunteers makes a huge difference and a positive impact on the client experience. Not only is it helpful to rely on the same volunteers from an operational standpoint. But it’s mutually beneficial for both clients and volunteers. As they continue to develop relationships, they build community.

“Having a strong sense of community, belonging and understanding fosters growth.”

Philabundance volunteer Christine Dziczek agreed.

“I think it’s a learning experience for both sides,” said Dziczek, a former longtime teacher, coach and athletic director in the Black Horse Pike Regional School District. “The students are getting exposed to the face of poverty in the community and it has been an eye-opener for some of them.”

Dziczek, who has volunteered for six years, said it was equally eye-opening to her to learn that college students, too, face food insecurity.

“I admit I was blind to that,” she said. “I thoroughly enjoy the partnership between Philabundance and Rowan. I love interacting with the college students. They bring a unique and youthful perspective to things and they openly share their thoughts. I learn from them and look forward to Fridays.”

Each week, Sanchez is at the site by 9 a.m. as volunteers began to show. Despite having to wear six layers to stay warm during the very cold winter months, it’s work she loves, she said.

“It’s the best feeling…helping to give people something they need to survive,” Sanchez said.