How an Innovative Food Pantry Feeds Seminary Families

When you think of a food pantry, you might imagine nonperishable foods stacked floor to ceiling. Perhaps you think of shoppers who can’t find the food they really want and use, but have to settle for what is in-stock. Or maybe you’re reminded of a process that is impersonal and transactional. At Calvin Theological Seminary, a different kind of food pantry exists.

The Idema Food Pantry & Clothes Closet is a one-of-a-kind seminary support system that provides qualifying students and their families with groceries, clothing, toys, home goods, and more. Students and their families may use the Idema if their income is below the eligibility guidelines established by The Emergency Food Assistance Program in Michigan.

When it comes to providing meals, the pantry strives to make sure the needs of seminary families are met with excellence. Each year, two student coordinators steward the process of using donated funds to buy the best foods possible to feed families. This happens through cost-savings measures at bulk stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, and Sysco, and through a buying partnership with Feeding America. Considerations like nutritional value, cultural preferences, and the freshness of items all come together to create a menu that best serves the pantry’s clients.

In addition to monetary funds, which often stretch further to help more students and provide high-need foods, donors can also provide non-perishable items. Besides canned goods, you’ll find the pantry stocked weekly with dairy, fresh produce, and baking staples.

In the current economic environment of inflation, the pantry serves a large number of families, averaging 55 households per week. That number is up from an average of 35-40 families in recent years.

“We save a significant amount of time and money,” said Carmen Bautista, a student who volunteers at the pantry. “This helps meet the gap that happens between income and expenses.”

“Sometimes families are even able to get treats that they wouldn’t buy because it wasn’t a part of the budget,” said Urie Alcivar, who serves as co-pantry coordinator alongside Will Brouwer.

“We don’t have a lot of extra money to spend,” said Brouwer, speaking of the student body. He uses the Idema’s products to supplement his regular grocery runs. “It’s just been good to have that extra resource and not have to pay for items like eggs, or boxes of macaroni and cheese,” he said.

Brouwer said that the food pantry also fosters a sense of community and has introduced him to students of different programs who he would have never met in the classroom.

Alciver and Bautista said that every month brings new stories from the Idema Food Pantry, such as one student taking extra food to cook for single students, who sometimes feel too immersed in studying to cook well for themselves. Recently a hospitalized international student benefitted from delivered meals, courtesy of the pantry. And community groups like Cascade Fellowship Christian Reformed Church have stepped up to provide surplus items from their food pantries and drives.

"When you are a student, you are always wondering how God will care for you and your family,” said President Jul Medenblik. “That wondering is answered, in part, through our food pantry.”

“God has used the pantry and closet to provide food to students and their families and so much more. These services are signs of God's affirmation, care and encouragement. Your gift is one way that God shows up and says, you are my child and I will provide for your daily bread."

If you or your church are interested in donating time, gift cards, or financial gifts; or hosting a food, clothing, or toy drive for the pantry, please contact studentlife@calvinseminary.edu.