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Grant to help University of Iowa food pantry expand culturally diverse offerings

Published: Apr. 18, 2021 at 10:33 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Cereal, canned goods, and boxes of pasta are items that can likely be found at food pantries across the country.

But at the Food Pantry at Iowa, which serves University of Iowa students, staff, and faculty, clients can browse offerings like palm oil, ramen, beans, and different varieties of rice.

Pantry staff say their culturally diverse foods section is in high demand week after week.

“It’s pretty hard to keep them on the shelves,” said Sarah Henry, the pantry’s advisor.

“Within a day, most of them are gone,” Food Pantry at Iowa Executive Director Manisha Modukuri echoed.

Over the last year, the pantry has been meeting an increased demand for food from clients, which Modukuri attributes to both the pandemic and to the group moving to a larger space at the Iowa Memorial Union, allowing them to feed more people.

At the same time, staff have been working to expand their culturally diverse offerings.

Once a week, pantry managers shop at markets in the area, such as the Iowa City African & Oriental Market and Chong’s Supermarket in Coralville, to restock this section.

“As an Asian-American myself, if I were to go into a pantry, I would want to see specific items that apply for my diet so that it feels like a welcoming environment on top of being able to provide necessities that I need for my specific diet,” Modukuri said.

“It felt great to know that we had put that into place,” added Oluoma Obi, a former manager of the west pantry, which is located in the Pride Alliance Center. “On the other hand, it was a bit disappointing because these foods are so expensive, we couldn’t buy a lot of it.”

Obi said part of that added cost is because many of their culturally diverse foods are imported from outside the U.S.

But the Food Pantry at Iowa recently applied for and was awarded a Social Justice and Racial Equity Grant from the City of Iowa City for $6,075 to expand its culturally diverse offerings.

“It’ll really help us to both buy new products and see if people take them or if they give us any good feedback and then buy more of what we already know goes,” Henry said.

Staff said ideas for using this funding include putting a greater variety of produce in their refrigerators and expanding what is available on the shelves.

“If we’re not providing food that people know how to eat and cook and want to cook and eat, it’s just not — we’re not doing the best we can,” Henry said.

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