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Shawn’s Cupboard, a valuable resource for food-insecure students

Published on March 30, 2021

Shawn’s Cupboard, a valuable resource for food-insecure students

On-campus food pantry revises operation during pandemic

Shawn's Cupboard
Shawn's Cupboard volunteers Diti Kapoor (top left), Taylor Ferreira (top right), Alondra Martinez (bottom left) and English lecturer Jennifer Beck.

According to the non-profit food organization, Feeding America, 39 percent of undergraduate students struggle to afford food—making millions of them at risk of facing hunger. Eastern Connecticut State University is aware of this concern and has created a vital campus resource to eliminate it. Located on the south end of campus behind Winthrop Hall, the Knight House is home to Shawn’s Cupboard, an on-campus, student-led food pantry that provides food supplies to Eastern students who struggle with not having enough to eat.

Established in 1972, the Foundation for Campus Ministry (FCM) is the pantry’s sponsor. FCM is a multi-religion organization that supports the spiritual needs of students. The ministry consists of two reverends, one priest and one rabbi. The FCM takes pride in being able to “meet the spiritual needs of the academic community with religious, spiritual and intellectual integrity through the diversity of campus ministries.”

“Food insecurity on college campuses has been around for many years,” says Nancy Brennan, administrative assistant for the FCM. “We are very grateful to all the wonderful people at Eastern and the community who have either held food drives for us or sent monetary donations.”

The pantry is named after alumna Shawn Dousis ’19, who founded the pantry. Passionate about combatting food insecurity, her duties included scheduling student volunteers, taking inventory, raising awareness of the pantry and more. After Dousis graduated, the FCM looked for a new student coordinator who was also determined to eliminate food insecurity — that student for the spring 2021 semester is New Media Studies major Alondra Martinez ’22.

Alondra Martinez

Martinez’s Shawn Cupboard journey began in her sophomore year when, just as with many other students, she was unaware the pantry existed. “I remember thinking how crazy it was that I had gone a whole year without knowing about it. I couldn't help but feel immensely grateful to have this resource available.”

Inspired and intrigued by this asset, Martinez signed up to be a student volunteer. By working closely with the student coordinator before her, Martinez saw firsthand the ins and outs of how the pantry operated and jumped at the opportunity to become the next student coordinator. “Getting to meet the community through volunteering and interacting with kind people was the main reason that pushed me to step up and take the initiative to lead the cupboard,” said Martinez.

Some of Martinez’s duties and responsibilities include picking up supplies from various donors, taking inventory, restocking shelves, organizing volunteers and delivering and keeping a clear communication pathway from higher-ups to student volunteers.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has greatly shifted the way the pantry operates. Before, students could come in any time and shop around themselves, but now they must schedule an appointment 72 hours in advance. Students must reserve a day and time slot from the cupboard’s booking calendar, fill-out an order form of what supplies they would like, and then go to the Knight House at their designated time. The pantry’s student volunteer who is on duty the time of an appointment has the responsibility of going to the Knight House and preparing the needed items and placing the bagged groceries outside.

Although this new operation seems straightforward, Martinez explained some of the obstacles that come with it. “There have been many issues with this, such as figuring out how to give access to volunteers to the Knight House. We couldn't open until everyone had key access, so we had a fob door installed, then gave fobs to all volunteers. There were constant delays when we had an urgent need to provide food as soon as we could. Sometimes students who sign up for appointments fail to meet their time, so coming up with solutions to all these small details can be challenging but the entire steering committee has worked very hard to resolve them.”

Being an out-of-state student from Georgia, Martinez paid tribute to members of the campus community. “Being far away from family pushed me to find people like Nancy [Brennan], a nurturing figure, who is there to help without wanting anything in return,” she said, also mentioning Kimberly Silcox, director of the Center for Community Engagement, and Patrick Vitale, geography professor. “They truly made my transition into the student leadership role as effortless and smooth as possible.”

The pantry gets most of its supplies from food drives, churches, schools and monetary donations. To schedule an appointment, visit the pantry’s booking schedule at and fill-out an inventory form of supplies you need at

To send a monetary donation, checks can be made payable to the Foundation for Campus Ministry and sent by interoffice mail to Fr. Larry’s attention at Campus Ministry or mailed to Campus Ministry at 290 Prospect Street, Willimantic, CT 06226.

Written by Bobbi Brown