For more than five years, the Bulldog Pantry has served the community, providing food for hungry students and hundreds of low-income families.
The pantry has grown over the years, from recruiting about eight volunteers a week to serve around 25 families, to nearly 30 volunteers giving aid to more than 200 families.
Over the holiday, the pantry helped feed more than 300 families of four to five members each.
The pantry is located in a large room at the Lutheran Campus Ministry across the street from Fresno State.
Jessica Medina has been a part of the pantry staff since it was founded November 2007.
Medina was working as a student assistant at the Richter Center. One day she was asked to go to an early meeting in place of her boss.
“As soon as I got there, I just fell in love with the idea and thought, ‘I can’t not be a part of something like this,’” Medina said.
She has volunteered her time at the pantry ever since, even though she has long since graduated from Fresno State.
The goal when the pantry was founded was to maintain financial sustainability. Medina believes that the organization has been mostly successful in this area.
“We [have] stayed open for the past [five] years now, which is a great thing,” she said. “We’ve grown quite a bit in the number of students and volunteers who come in. We’ve been able to produce money to be able to pay for everything.”
Food for the families is bought from the Community Food Bank. When the pantry began, it spent around $50 to $200 a week for food.
Now it spends nearly $600 in an average week.
“It’s really great we can provide that much for such a small amount,” Medina said. “I think any one of us can go to the grocery store and spend $200 for just a family of four. We can help provide food for a family of four for 200 families.”
Money that goes to the pantry is all donated, Medina said.
“It takes $15-$18,000 a year to keep our doors open,” she said. “So we try to recruit as many people who are willing to help out and provide funds for us.”
Though the organization engages in fundraisers throughout the year in order to keep up with the community’s demand, it sometimes runs into supply problems.
“If anything, we have the issue of not having enough for the day,” Medina said.
The pantry provides food starting at 9 a.m. every Saturday. When the volunteers get to the pantry at 8:30, it is not unusual to see people already in line, some of them there for hours, even in the cold.
Those who show up too late run the risk of going home empty handed.
“A lot of the time, we run out of food before we close the doors,” Medina said. The pantry closes its doors at 10:30 a.m., but there have been times when it runs out of food within the half hour before closure.
In an effort to prevent people from going home without food, the pantry started cutting down on how much they give. Before they gave out two bags of food, but lately they only give out one. Bags are also being packed with less food.
“We’re always in need,” Medina said. “We try to stay ahead as much as we can and have $2,000 in reserve all the time, but we’re always out there seeking money and donations in order to keep our doors open.”
Medina said that the pantry will have several fundraising events this year, such as the Will Walk for Food drive in May. The walk will begin in the afternoon and end with a barbecue at Fresno State.
For those who donate $1,000, the pantry names them one of its 15 Fantastic Friends, named such because of the need to raise around $15,000 a year. Those who become Friends have the option to have their name placed on the pantry’s wall.
Bulldog Pantry director Don Romsa said the pantry was founded not only to help families in the community, but also to give Fresno State students valuable lessons.
“There was a real concern to provide Fresno State students a real-life hands-on experience in understanding something about hunger in our community,” Romsa said.
The pantry also helps low-income Fresno State students who need help getting through the semester.
“We know students are coming to the pantry and accessing the food that’s there,” Romsa said.
There are two ways in which students come in to get food, Romsa said. Students can either volunteer their time for the day and take home food after, or stand in line.
One of the goals behind the founding of the pantry was to provide without policing over what is handed out, Romsa said.
“We don’t ask questions. Anyone who needs food can come and get it,” he said. Around 20 percent of the people who get food are related to the university.
Fresno State student Ashley Muniz has volunteered at the Bulldog Pantry for more than a year.
“There’s a great need for it,” Muniz said. “It feels good that what I’m doing actually makes a difference in the community.”
Muniz is a member of the pantry’s leadership team, which includes around 10 other students, plus a few faculty and community members. The members of the team are charged with finding sponsors, donators, planning and advertising.
“We are recruiting students for [Will Walk for Food],” she said. “We are also recruiting faculty and other members of the campus community.”
Muniz said that being a part of the Bulldog Pantry is a rewarding experience. Her favorite time of the year is during the holidays, when she and the volunteers give out turkeys – a rare treat for the community.
“They express things like, ‘This is the first time I had a turkey for Christmas in 10 years,’” she said.
The Bulldog Pantry also hands out toys for the children.
“To be able to see the joy on children’s faces for just doing something as simple as giving them crayons and a scarf – that really touches me,” Muniz said. “It’s very memorable for me.”