Eastern Washington University and CHAS Health have a similar goal when it comes to student health and wellness—providing the resources students need to focus on their studies, not where their next meal is coming from. So, when CHAS began exploring ways to help improve the overall health of the EWU community, it was easy for Eastern faculty and staff to steer them towards essential wellness programs on campus.
“We asked, what are we doing on campus that aligns with their community health mission?” says Brian Davenport, the director of EWU’s Office of Community Engagement. “Two pieces came to mind. One was the food pantries and one was the feminine hygiene project.”
CHAS Health is a non-profit, federally qualified health center that provides medical, dental, pharmacy and behavioral health services to families and individuals of all ages, regardless of ability to pay. The organization generously donated $10,000 to Eastern Washington University to be split evenly between the food pantry program and the feminine hygiene project.
The university relies on many important community partners, such as Second Harvest and the Dairy Farmers of Washington, to help fill the shelves in the pantries with food donations. But as Davenport explains, there is additional need.
“CHAS coming along is huge,” he says. “We get a lot of food donated, but not all of the food we need. We do have to purchase food, so having the funds from CHAS allows us to do that.”
Davenport also says that feminine hygiene products are rarely donated. The CHAS Health partnership will also give EWU the funds needed to make those purchases. Free products are available to students in the residence halls and in the food pantry cupboards located in buildings across campus.
The food pantry program has experienced much-needed growth in the past year. Thanks to refrigeration and freezer units loaned by EWU Dining Services, for example, the university this fall opened a new Central Food Pantry in Tawanka Hall. The shelves are filled with a wide assortment of canned and boxed foods; rice, beans and pasta; and fresh potatoes, onions and breads. The fridge and freezer units are packed with products such as apples and carrots; juice and tea; dairy items and frozen meals. While the Tawanka Hall location is the only one with refrigeration, the seven previously established food pantry cupboards are still regularly stocked with non-perishable foods and hygiene products.
Davenport says he couldn’t be more pleased with the donations and the improved facilities to ensure that Eastern students can get the food they need. However, he is quick to point out, his work helping to mitigate food insecurity on campus is far from over.
“Yes, we need money to operate, but dollars are secondary to mutually beneficial relationships,” he says. “How can we work together with Second Harvest, the Dairy Farmers of Washington, CHAS—all of our partners who have come along side us? How can we work with them in a way that benefits them as well?”
CHAS Health representatives agree—it’s about working together to find proactive solutions to food insecurity, for not only Eastern, but the larger community. One such effort involves nutrition education.
“Helping students understand how to eat healthy, and how to eat healthily out of the food pantry,” says Davenport. “CHAS is really committed to that whole piece, not just here’s a check, but really coming alongside and saying we want to be partners. It’s been fantastic.”
“As a community health care center, CHAS Health looks for ways to be involved in the communities where our clinics are located,” says Janine Zeller, director of operations for CHAS Health’s Cheney Health Center. “After learning that food insecurity is a common issue for Eastern students, we wanted to partner to help provide resources.”
The education component is still being developed. Davenport says some possible options include nutritional signage or handouts in the food pantry, cooking demonstrations and/or sampling, and workshops with EWU and CHAS nutritionists.
“It doesn’t happen without partners,” he says. “That’s part of why we’re excited to have CHAS with us because we can’t do this alone. There’s a need, it’s real, and it’s not something that we can sort out independently.”