The sun is setting on the last Tuesday of the month as a handful of students sitting in the lobby of Ball State’s Multicultural Center check off what they need from a list of toiletries, nonperishables and the week’s selection of fresh bread, fruit and vegetables.

There’s an Honors College student working two jobs, a mother slogging through her dissertation, a homeless freshman and a sophomore paying off last month’s fender bender.

Student volunteers collect the shopping lists and head upstairs to Cardinal Kitchen, Ball State’s food pantry that’s open to all students from 5 to 8 p.m. the last three Tuesdays of each month and two evenings in the summer, one day in June and one in July. The pantry, which neither limits visits nor sets a threshold of need, has served more than 350 students during 1,000-plus visits since its January 2015 opening, said Executive Director Madison Lyon, who has led the organization since May.

The goal: to mitigate food insecurity, which is faced by students locally and across the nation.

Graduate student Jes Wade stocks the shelves at Cardinal Kitchen.

Wade now monitors inventory at Cardinal Kitchen, which is in the Multicultural Center.

“Some of my peers are in great need — putting resources toward paying for classes and books, with little left over for proper nutrition to fuel their minds and bodies,” said Lyon, a junior from Fort Wayne, Indiana. “But my greatest hope for Cardinal Kitchen is that we continue to remove any stigma associated with needing help. Most everyone falls on hard times, and it’s easy to belittle your problems and not reach out. I’ve used the pantry, and it was nice to have one less thing on my plate during a stressful time.”

Each week, Lyon sends an email to all students, reminding them of the resource established by Ball State’s Student Government Association. She and a handful of peers have since kept the pantry open, even driving hours from hometowns to open its doors during the summer months.

Raising awareness, deepening ties

Ben Wright, assistant director of Student Life, supports the small stock of volunteers driven to increase awareness of food insecurity, deepen collaborations on campus and elevate the pantry’s reach and reputation.

“We are working to build connections with partners across campus, including the counseling and health centers, so those offices are aware of our services and think to refer students to us,” Wright said of the pantry, which partners with Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana to receive discounts on food purchases. “Our space is too small to allow clients to shop in a traditional sense, so we are also hoping to expand to a ‘choice pantry’ — where students can walk through aisles — in a more centrally located space.”

Want to give to Cardinal Kitchen? Go to the university’s online gift form, check the box that says “I wish to select a fund not included in the lists above,” type “Cardinal Kitchen” in the “Fund Name” field and select the amount you want to give.

Jes Wade, ’15, is excited to hear of this passion and momentum. The telecommunications graduate, now working toward a master’s in public administration, helped start the pantry as its executive director during the 2014-15 academic year and has continued to serve as unit director, monitoring inventory. Cardinal Kitchen emerged, she said, to confront the “shocking prevalence” of food insecurity among college students.

In October, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness released findings from a survey of about 4,000 college students from 12 states. Nearly 50 percent of respondents reported food insecurity — a lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food — during the previous 30 days, with 22 percent in the more severe “hungry” category.

The report’s assertion that 64 percent of food-insecure students experience housing insecurity supports Wade’s claim that the issue is a complex one that requires campus partners to build a web of support for those in need. Partnership and awareness, she said, are key to providing students with the comprehensive support they need to achieve and thrive.

One sign that awareness is growing: Cardinal Kitchen won $2,000 during this year’s Thank A Donor Day, after students voted for the group to receive the money from the Ball State University Foundation.

Donations sustain lean campus resource

Student government supports Cardinal Kitchen with an annual investment of about $5,000, depending on available resources, but the pantry also relies on donations from campus organizations and individuals.

“It’s wonderful to see students smile as we hand them their food,” said senior Anthony Bright-Newlin, who oversees the pantry’s monetary and food donations. “Knowing they might not have access to food without our services keeps us going, focused on education and awareness to be more effective.”

Photo shows an inventory chart at Cardinal Kitchen.

The food insecurity that Cardinal Kitchen addresses is hardly unique to Ball State. A survey released in October of 4,000 college students in 12 states found that nearly half had experienced food insecurity in the previous 30 days.

The actuarial science major from Hobart, Indiana, said the education involves encouraging groups that donate food to align their giving with the pantry’s greatest needs. In general, Bright-Newlin said, the pantry aims to gather canned goods with protein, such as beans and canned meat, and toiletries, including feminine hygiene products and shampoo.

As grateful as volunteers are for food donations, the most effective donation is money. The discount through Second Harvest, Wright said, means every dollar Cardinal Kitchen spends can buy seven meals’ worth of food.

‘Each number is a person’

Lyon said she is thankful for the encouragement of peers and Student Life professionals like Wright, who also oversees Student Voluntary Services and Alternative Breaks programs. With that support, she is certain the organization will continue to grow, but she is not driven by numbers.

“Many funding sources are focused on numbers, how many we serve and their level of need, but the numbers and circumstances don’t drive us, and I think that makes us unique,” said Lyon, who is a double major in English, with a concentration in literature, and Spanish, with a concentration in literature and culture. “Each number is a person with a story, and that story is compelling and worth our attention and investment.”