Bulldog Pantry aims to feed those in need despite COVID-19 challenges

Bulldog Pantry volunteers help families in need amid the pandemic (Courtesy of Diane Phakonekham)

The Bulldog Pantry has been giving back to the city of Fresno for 13 years, but 2020 has come with its challenges.

Food shortages, lack of staff and an overwhelming number of consumers are just some of the challenges the Bulldog Pantry faces.

“The pandemic has certainly impacted the pantry in ways that we operate,” student coordinator Heidy Gonzalez said. “We had to shift our regular routine to follow safety procedures according to public safety guidelines. We also have had a decrease in volunteers and an increase of community members who are in need of food assistance.”

This month, the pantry will be distributing food boxes on Sept. 19 at 9 a.m. and will be holding its monthly food drive on Sept. 26. 

“During the first few months of the pandemic, many of the other food banks, shelters and churches that previously provided food services for the community, were shutting down or limiting services,” Bulldog Pantry volunteer Elizabeth Akbiyikian said. “This caused a spike in the number of people that we normally see at our distributions. Not to mention the food shortages that the grocery stores were seeing.”

Akbiyikian originally began volunteering at the pantry to fulfill the required community service hours for her dietetics degree.

But over time Akbiyikian said she learned that a pantry is essential to the community especially in times like mid-March, when the California shelter-in-place was enforced. People scrambled to grocery stores to find everything they needed, making the lines extend around parking lots and clearing up shelves. 

“I believe in what the pantry is doing for our community. I have seen how hard they work to help others even when it is a challenge,” Akbiyikian said.

Nicole Estrada and her kids have been attending every single distribution by the Bulldog Pantry for over a year. For her family, these events are crucial. Estrada’s children have high functioning autism, major sensory and other health issues.

“Their diet mainly consists of pureed fruits, vegetable and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Estrada said. “I don’t know where I would be without the box vegetable distributions and other staples the Bulldog Pantry gives us. This place is more than a pantry, it is a beacon of hope.”

According to its website, the pantry, which launched in October 2007, was started by a group of concerned students and staff members of Fresno State with the help of the Luther Campus Ministry. And while it’s student-operated, anyone is welcome to take advantage of the pantry’s services.

“There are genuinely great people working hard to support families in our city,” Akbiyikian said. “While we do get families from all different ethnicities, race, religion, and cultures, at our distributions, the majority of the families/individuals that come to the pantry are from minority groups.”

The Bulldog Pantry gets its food by purchasing from the Central California Food Bank through a list of donors, which includes the Fresno State cupboard, Hertz and Fleet Feet. The full list can be found on their website. Additionally, the pantry receives direct food donations from restaurants or organizations.

The pantry is located across the street from Fresno State at 2311 E. Shaw Ave.

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