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By Vivian Le

Halfway through its first semester, the Food Pantry at Iowa has experienced exponential growth. Leaders of the pantry say they expect the numbers to continue to climb.

“Our first full month that we were open, in September, we had 27 visits. Now, in October, we have already more than doubled our visits for the month,” said Ben Marks, a co-director of the Food Pantry at Iowa. [Disclosure: Marks previously worked as a DI Metro editor.]

The pantry débuted this fall after approximately a year of planning and fundraising.

“I think we’ve grown pretty fast, which is pretty exciting for us,” said Sarah Ingwersen, a co-director of the Food Pantry. “But I don’t know if that’s necessarily surprising, because the survey we did showed that there was a need on campus.”

Next week, the pantry will change its hours for a wider accessibility for users.

The pantry, located in 209 IMU, is available to students, staff, and faculty and is open Mondays from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Wednesdays from 12:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. To be qualified to acquire food from the pantry, all users need is a university ID.

Offering services to such a wide range of people in need, pantry leaders said they have approached the new feat with a conscious mindset, making sure the Food Pantry is equitable to serve everyone.

“We’re making sure we have not just the affordable healthy food in the pantry but also paying attention to the needs of the students,” Ingwersen said. “If students have culturally significant meals for religious holidays, we want to make sure that we can have those types of foods in there so they can represent their culture, so they don’t have to worry about buying the right kind of foods.”

Along with general food items, the pantry has accumulated allergy-friendly foods such as dairy-free, nut-free, and gluten-free products.

The pantry also has collected and distributed toiletries and other personal-care products, but it constantly needs to replenish the items, which include ethnic hair products, feminine-hygiene products, soap, toilet paper, and toothpaste.

“A lot of those things are more expensive, so they don’t typically get donated, but obviously, they are needed,” said Sydney Hofferber, a Food Pantry volunteer coordinator.

Partnering with the Crisis Center of Johnson County, Table to Table, University of Iowa Student Government, and the UI Student Gardens, the Food Pantry has been able to keep food in stock consistently.

Ingwersen said she was surprised by the reaction of students and their willingness to support the pantry by seeking further educational resources about hunger and making private donations.

During Homecoming week, the pantry received 1,659 pounds of canned foods from “Can-Struction,” a food drive put on annually at the UI in which groups build structures out of non-perishables.

Hofferber said the pantry hopes to organize other initiatives and events like a hunger banquet in the spring to encourage hunger awareness and food security.

“We are growing incredibly fast, which is a wonderful thing for us, but at the same time, of course, it speaks to the level of need here at the university and how many students and faculty are unfortunately going to rely on this service to get them through their years here,” Marks said.