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Helping Hand food pantry UW-Stout

UW-Stout student Kayla Lehner and Sarah Snyder, UW-Stout residence life coordinator, stock the Helping Hand food plus pantry. Eventually Helping Hand will add a career closet to provide needed business casual and professional clothes for students for job interviews or to start their careers.

With more than one-third of university students nationally food insecure, Sarah Snyder knew she had to do something to help.

Eighteen months ago, the University of Wisconsin-Stout residence life coordinator started offering some nonperishable food items at her office for hungry students, but she knew there was only so much she could do. Seeing the need, she reached out to counseling, student health, dining, housing and other campus services and was able to do something more.

On April 2 Helping Hand food plus pantry opened at UW-Stout for all students. It is in room 130 of the University Services building, 817 S. Broadway St. Helping Hand provides access to food and other life essentials for students facing any level of food insecurity.

“Food access should not be a barrier for someone to get an education,” Snyder said. “We strive to provide healthy and filling options along with quick and easy meals and snacks.”

Helping Hand also offers laundry detergent and other hygiene products, along with supplies such as notebooks, folders and writing instruments.

“We have a student body that is a lot of first-generation students, and they don’t always have as much financial support from their families because their families may not be able to support them,” Snyder said. “I think having a food plus pantry on campus is definitely more accessible for students. They can drop in on their way to and from classes.”

Students also may feel more comfortable visiting a food plus pantry on campus, even though they are always welcome at Stepping Stones of Dunn County food pantry in Menomonie, Snyder said.

Students have to fill out a one-time form to use Helping Hand, although all information will be kept confidential. The data helps Feed My People Food Bank target what it buys for Helping Hand.

Other data showing the student need for Helping Hand include:

  • In 2015, 1,917 UW-Stout students, 23 percent, were at or below the 150 percent level of the federal poverty level.
  • In the 2017-18 academic year, 2,297 students, 27 percent, qualified for federal Pell grants for low-income students.
  • This school year 990 undergraduate students had zero estimated family contribution toward their education as part of their federal financial aid form.
  • According to a 2018 survey by the Wisconsin Hope Lab, 36 percent of university students in Wisconsin were food insecure, which affects their ability to concentrate and can impact their grades. Many reported skipping meals or cutting meal sizes because of lack of money.

Helping Hand is setting up an account with Stout University Foundation, Snyder said. Checks must be made to the Foundation and designate Helping Hand food pantry. Mail donations to: Stout University Foundation, 320 S. Broadway St., Menomonie, Wis., 54751. To contact the foundation, call 715-232-5161.

Unexpired, nonperishable or perishable food items, unopened hygiene products, laundry supplies or school supplies may be donated. Donations can be made during pantry hours or by appointment. The pantry is open Tuesdays from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Wednesdays 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and Thursdays 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. or by appointment. For an appointment email or visit the Facebook page Stout Helping Hand. Items most needed are peanut butter, bread, and snack items such as individual bags of cookies or granola bars.

Volunteers with housing staff are helping to staff Helping Hand this school year.

Miranda Danzeisen, a senior applied science major from Durand, is one of the volunteers. “I enjoy helping other people,” she said. “I am very supportive of other students and understand their struggles.”

Kris Pawlowski, Stepping Stones of Dunn County assistant director and food pantry coordinator, is thrilled Helping Hand has opened. “We know students are on a pretty tight budget and it is harder for them to make ends meet,” she noted. “It is more convenient to have it open on campus where students don’t need transportation to get needed items. Students might also feel more comfortable having a place where they can stop in as needed.”

Eventually Helping Hand wants to add a career closet after it is moved to a larger space over the summer. This would provide needed business casual and professional clothes for students for job interviews or to start their careers. Donations of business casual and professional clothes will be accepted in all sizes.

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.

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