During an eight-week summer internship with the Student Advocate Office, Mercedes, who studies public management, helped develop the Crimson Cupboard, a food pantry on campus that serves all IU undergraduate and graduate students.
“When students may not have the finances to afford groceries or when students may run out of meal points, they have that resource available to them,” Mercedes said. “Some students have to choose between paying other bills and buying groceries, and I want that to end.”
Sally Jones, director of the Student Advocate Office, said she and other administrators heard a lot of anecdotal information about the need for a food pantry, such as students coming to the office expressing their need for food, and Mercedes stepped right in.
“She really took over the project and managed it very well,” Sally said. “She was very enthusiastic and really took ownership over this project.”
Not only did Mercedes help in conducting research about IU’s campus, but she said she also visited other campuses to conduct research on other school’s food pantries.
Mercedes said she also had to find a location for the pantry, which she said she aims to open in November.
With the help of Timothy Stockton, the associate director for Residential Life, Mercedes said she found the perfect space — the first floor of Campus View Apartments.
Mercedes said she also had to find volunteers for the food pantry. She had a call-out meeting for the Crimson Cupboard Food Pantry Project, which brought out students interested in volunteering.
Sally said she also believed volunteers are what will keep the pantry going.
She said the volunteers for the food pantry will lead food drives and participate in community outreach to get non-parishable food items.
“This food pantry is only going to be successful if students provide the leadership and guidance for it,” she said. “I’ve seen some really promising moves in that direction so far. I think we have a good volunteer foundation, and we have wonderful leadership in students like Mercedes.”
While Mercedes faced those challenges with success, she said there has been one that trumped all.
“I would have to say that my greatest challenge was hearing all the stories about students who cannot afford food and learning some of the things that students have done just to get food,” she said.
Mercedes said her passion to give back didn’t start at IU.
“My father is an outreach minister, and I got my passion for working with food-scarcity from him,” she said. “I have done a lot of work with homeless populations and when my dad’s multiple sclerosis began making him ill, I decided that it was my time to pick up where he had left off.”
Mercedes said she volunteered at the Salvation Army in Bloomington, along with many food pantries outside Bloomington. She said she is also involved on campus, but her main focus is researching the ways food-scarcity affects different populations of people, including children.
“When I realized that there were so many students in need, I knew that there was something that I could do to help and I was determined to make a difference,” she said.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done for the pantry. Mercedes said she will get funding from donations and student organization funding.
She said she also wants to change the negative stigma surrounding going to a food pantry.
“I am working to make the food pantry a welcoming environment, so students feel like they are walking into the grocery store and they are shopping without judgement,” she said.
Mercedes said she told people that we fail to realize some people don’t have the luxury of eating everyday.
“Food is a basic necessity, and the fact that there are students who cannot afford to eat is most definitely a problem,” she said.