Southern Seminary opens food pantry to support students during pandemic

Communications Staff — July 8, 2020

“My husband and I both lost our jobs due to the pandemic and financial support from back home has also slowed down. While we are thankful for the support from our church family, the pantry has provided flour for baking bread, oil for frying, and cereal for my kids.”

For approximately 200 students per week, the Food Pantry at Southern Seminary has been a source of financial relief in the midst of a trying situation. Thanks in large part to the generosity of Southeast Christian Church’s basic needs distribution ministry, LifeBridge, the Southern Seminary community, and many other local churches, students were provided with essential goods.

The need for the pantry was evident to Campus Clinic staff and Student Life within a few weeks of campus closing due to the coronavirus. With growing concern amongst local, state, and national government officials over the COVID-19 pandemic that was beginning to roil the United States, on March 11 the announcement to close campus was made. By March 13 the campus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College closed, with minimal numbers of staff allowed in offices and students transitioning to online learning.

The Seminary has continued to house students through this time, but with campus closed, a substantial number of on campus employees were left without work. International students were particularly hard hit. Visa laws for international students prohibit working off campus, and many international students saw support from their home countries slow as many in those countries lost their jobs due to the response to the pandemic.

One student from Korea noted how the pandemic forced them to rely on the pantry to help care for their child. “Support was cut-off from Korea since they were also hit hard. As a result, finances became tight. We needed to use our savings. We have a baby and diapers are really expensive. So when I saw that there are free diapers in the pantry, my heart was relieved.” 

“At least we do not have to worry about diapers during this season.”

As students visited the campus clinic, the staff quickly recognized the deprivation that had befallen some students. “We were trying to think ‘what could we do?’” said Karen Wellum, nurse manager at the Campus Clinic. “I was talking to Rachel and my other nurses in the Clinic and we said we could probably — given the generous nature of the campus, seminary community — start a food pantry for people.”

On May 8, the Campus Clinic and Student Life began spreading the word on social media, with hopes of opening by the end of May. Yet due to an overwhelming outpouring of donations, the pantry opened Monday, May 18. Immediately, the Food Pantry began serving students with non-perishable food items, hygiene products, and other necessities.

But the extent of the need was soon evident, and additional donations were needed. Through a longstanding volunteer of the Southern Exchange, Southern Seminary’s on campus share and repurpose store, the Campus Clinic was put in contact with Lifebridge. Since May 8, the Food Pantry has received three box truck loads of goods for the pantry to divvy out to students and their families. Lifebridge continues to donate on an as needed basis, as Wellum identifies needs.

The generosity of the campus community, Lifebridge, and local churches has made it possible for the Food Pantry to continue serving students with not only non-perishable food items and hygiene products but at times even produce. The current plan is to remain open throughout July and August.

The Food Pantry continues to welcome donations. If interested in donating, there are a couple of ways to do so. You may drop your donations off on campus at the table outside of the Campus Clinic, located in Honeycutt 213. Donations may also be made through the Food Pantry’s Amazon Wish List. The Food Pantry is especially in need of sugar, cooking oil, diapers (sizes 3–6), flour, spam, corned beef, evaporated and condensed milk, and vegetable and meat stock.

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