On April 19, the Cal U Cupboard hosted the Free Market Festival as a part of Student Appreciation Week. Originally part of a spring-cleaning drive, director of the Center for Volunteer Programs and Service Learning, Diane Hasbrouck, called it a “great opportunity to give back to our students and provide another event for student appreciation week.” For any students who missed out on the opportunity for needed items, plans for another festival before the Fall 2022 semester are already in discussion.
A collaboration of many different clubs and departments, and organized by the Volunteer Office, the event featured free items that were offered to roaming students within the Natali Student Center. Pots, pans, kitchenware, glassware, food, clothes and sanitary items were just some of the items offered to any students in need. Located outside was a food truck sponsored by Cal U Catholic, for which students were given a free meal voucher.
Starting out by just offering food items and perishables, the Cal U Cupboard has grown exponentially since its founding in 2015. Now, according to Hasbrouck, the Cupboard offers everything from personal care items to school supplies to dental care.
“Every year, the Cal U Cupboard is growing… It has kept on evolving.”
As they are trying to expand their reach, they must also keep in mind the limitations of some students, keeping some major food-related assumptions in mind.
“We are very intentional that there’s pop tabs, because we don’t want to assume they have a can opener,” Hasbrouck said.
Bryce Stahl is a junior at Cal U, and although she has only been at the Cupboard for a year, she still feels a personal impact and motivation to give back.
“It makes me feel good to be able to give to other students,” she said. “I’ve been in their shoes. We all have.”
Both Hasbrouck and Stahl are outspoken advocates for raising awareness for food insecurity, taking part in the advocacy event organized by Swipe out Hunger in Harrisburg on March 28th. A total of six students, including Stahl, represented Cal U at the event to advocate for hunger-free campuses across Pennsylvania.
The demand from students for free items and assistance has gone up according to Stahl, mostly due to the pandemic and the resulting struggles. Hasbrouck, however, cited the difficulty to get accurate information from students that might feel social stigma, especially relating to food insecurity. She also clarified the need for a constant feedback loop from the students to cater to their needs.
“I don’t know if we would get a clear picture of change from one year to another,” she said. “It’s comparing a lot of apples and oranges, so I think talking to students has been the most vital way to get information.”
Meghan Bittinger, a freshman at Cal U, realizes the value of such an event.
“It makes me feel thankful as a student that we’re provided opportunities like these to take advantage of.”
With the reputation of college campuses being such an important factor in admissions, Bittinger thinks that an event like this is a positive force.
“I think that these events are great for the school.”
The Cal U Cupboard has been assisting students in need for years now and has no intention of slowing down. In fact, they are growing at a surprising rate and plan to offer more amenities to all students who reach out. This festival, Hasbrouck says, will help with exposure to new or incoming students. The Cal U Cupboard is located in Natali 119 and students are heavily encouraged to place orders online at calu.edu/cupboard to be made available for pickup.