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Penn's Graduate and Professional Student Assembly's pop-up food pantry in Houston Hall on Nov. 5.

Credit: Avi Singh

Penn's Graduate and Professional Student Assembly held a pop-up food pantry to combat food insecurity for graduate students over the weekend.

The initiative was led by GAPSA's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Leadership Council and took place in Houston Hall on Nov. 5 and 6. GAPSA volunteers distributed fresh produce from Giordano Garden Groceries, a Philadelphia grocery store, and food from BJ's Wholesale Club. The pantry also provided personal care items such as facial tissue, soap, and menstrual products. 

GAPSA held the pantry to provide healthy food for students and to assist those experiencing mental health issues that prevent them from purchasing products themselves. Event organizers handed students tote bags or cardboard boxes as they entered Houston Hall to store their items, and students moved in a line around five tables displaying products.

Bailey Nance, a fourth-year Perelman School of Medicine Ph.D. student and event organizer said that the food pantry saw such high demand that they had to close early.

“It was a long line, and we ran out of bags. We ran out of produce and we actually had to shut down almost 30 minutes early because there was just nothing left to give people. We had to go back to the store for the second day,” Nance said.

Penn Dining offers various meal plans for graduate students, but fourth-year Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics Ph.D. student and IDEAL Council Chair Pamela Gallo said that they are not commonly utilized nor practical because of the busy schedules of graduate students.

“For me, because I do work in the sciences in a lab every day, you have to bring your lunch or buy lunch every day. [Meal plans] are just not really implemented in graduate students' lives or really even talked about when you first start,” Gallo said.

Sophie Tannenbaum, a student in the School of Social Policy & Practice, added that graduate students are constrained by money and time to purchase food for their meals. She added that it is difficult for graduate students to get free healthy food on campus.

“There’s typically less of an emphasis on graduate students being low-income … so I think we’re just very quick to bounce on [resources] because it’s not all the time that these resources are here constantly,” Tannenbaum said.

The only official food pantry for Penn students is located in the FGLI Center of the Greenfield Intercultural Center, which opened in 2016 at 3708 Chestnut Street. Students can access the pantry Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., according to GIC Director Valerie De Cruz.

Other peer institutions, however, have institutionalized means to reduce food insecurity among students. Columbia University has multiple food pantries located across campus for both graduates and undergraduates. At Brown University, students may apply for Emergency E-Gap Funding for their meals.

Nance said GAPSA's pop-up food pantries are also intended to show the University that addressing food insecurity is a prevalent need among graduate students. Gallo similarly called on the University to operate permanent, institutionalized food pantries to remedy food insecurity for graduate students.

“I just want Penn to be able to support this moving forward, because I have come across a couple of obstacles," Gallo said. "Just with placing donation boxes, I asked multiple schools to place donation boxes and I essentially got shut down or they didn't even reply. So I just want the University to be more open and more supportive of this effort."

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the GIC food pantry is closed until further notice when in fact the University Life website was not updated with the correct information, according to De Cruz. The food pantry is open Monday to Friday for students.