Washington Adventist University (WAU) is known for its motto “Gateway to Service,” highlighting the university’s commitment to engaging and preparing students for service in and out of their communities. With Service Day once a semester, mission trips, and other available service opportunities, this aspect of the WAU lifestyle has been encouraged since its beginnings in 1904. A part of maintaining that motto involves providing service to the WAU students themselves. It has become more apparent, due to the challenges we faced during this pandemic, that there is a greater need for support and security amongst our students. In response, an initiative was taken to create and open WAU’s first Food Pantry.
The start of the pandemic, subsequent quarantine, and the transfer to virtual schooling was met with the limitation of food services, access to basic necessities, and work opportunities for many students who remained on campus. The generous donations received by our residence halls, Halcyon Hall and Morrison Hall, have greatly helped to aid our students during these difficult times. However, the need for these necessities has persisted with students unable to access facilities available to them before the pandemic and work to provide for themselves, while returning to focus on their university education.
After conversing with several students about the problems they were facing, understanding the need for a resource they could readily access, and speaking with other universities about their pantries, the Vice President (VP) of the Center for Student Life, Ralph Johnson, started the plan for the WAU Food Pantry. Finding the space and producing the supplies needed to open a pantry would not have been possible without the support and assistance of several individuals, departments, and organizations who helped fund and donate various items needed for the formation of the pantry. WAU’s Chief Operations and Compliance Officer, Janette Neufville, helped to locate a grant through ECMC that would purchase special shelves, plastic containers, and other items for the pantry area. The Department of Advancement and Alumni Relations and the Student Association dedicated time to finding sponsors and working to prepare the pantry space for its grand opening. Organizations such as the Columbian Union Conference and Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington, faculty, staff, alumni, friends of the university, and other individuals also came forward with donations to help build the pantry’s stock of food, other necessities, and items to be available for the students.
On Alumni Weekend, April 17, 2021, the WAU Food Pantry had a dedication and opening ceremony. President Weymouth Spence shared with the attendees, “This event, my friends, aligns with the mission of Washington Adventist University. Education cannot be effective if we have not taken care of the physical needs of our students.” Also in attendance was the Mayor of Takoma Park, Kate Stewart, who expressed, “This is so, so important for all of you here, but also it is important for our community because the students, the faculty, Washington Adventist University is part of our community. You are Takoma Park residents. You are here with us and since COVID has started, I’ve seen that community come together.”
After its official opening, there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from the many students that have been helped by the access to items and services that the WAU Food Pantry provides. “I believe it was the first week that we opened when a student stopped by and just got a few items. At that point, we were open two days a week, and both Dean Renee and I told her that she was welcome to come back,” said Lorena Martinez, Administrative Assistant to the Chaplain. “She started crying and said to us, ‘You don’t know how much of a blessing this is for me. God bless you.’ It was surprising to hear because we were thinking that we were there to bless somebody else…It touched our hearts.”
“We even had a student who came and helped the day we were setting up. She came back and got some stuff and then she also made it clear that she wanted to volunteer,” Renee Phillips, Dean of Women, continued. “We had one young lady that we prayed together with and she appreciated that, where if I had seen her on campus we would have never stopped and prayed. Another time someone took some Steps to Christ books and wanted to give them to her friends. It’s more than feeding the physical needs but sometimes the spiritual needs for the students, for volunteers, and even for us.”
One student commented, “I am very happy that the school takes care of us, especially during hard times like these. As an international student, I am very thankful and feel looked after by the school.”
A lot is in store for the future of the WAU Food Pantry. There are currently plans to invest in a refrigerator to house perishable items like frozen goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and bread. For the rest of the summer, the pantry will be open every Wednesday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm EDT. This schedule may change with the start of the upcoming Fall semester to accommodate students’ needs. The pantry will also be accepting student volunteers that may be interested in working in the Food Pantry during the school year.
There is a lot of excitement about the potential of the WAU Food Pantry for WAU, its students, and eventually the community as a whole. It is WAU’s mission to see students through their education, preparing them to be leaders of service in their communities. Along that same thread, it is also its goal to provide them with the best resources to make their university experience a smooth and successful one.
The WAU Food Pantry is located in Room #13 in the basement of Wilkinson Hall, out of the way of general traffic for the individual’s comfort and privacy. If you are not comfortable with going directly to the location site, you can contact the WAU Food Pantry by calling the direct line 301.891.4089 or Lorena Martinez at 301.891.4112 to have items brought to you at another undisclosed location. Currently, the WAU Food Pantry has a wide selection of canned and boxed goods, other nonperishable items, essentials like hygiene products and hand sanitizer, books, and more for students to pick up as they need.
The WAU Food Pantry accepts all donations; however, nonperishable items like canned goods, boxed milk, ramen, snacks, salad and sandwich spreads, and goods with a long shelf life are the best things to prioritize. Other items like hygiene products (body wash, feminine products, razors, etc.), hand sanitizer, and books are also in high demand.
If you would like to bring a donation to the WAU Food Pantry or are interested in volunteering, please contact Lorena Martinez at 301.891.4112.
To send monetary donations, contact Jennifer Albury at email@example.com or call 202.568.0273.