Feeding All St. Thomas Students

Bright yellow bins filled with cereal, crackers, canned fruits and bottled water can be found around the University of St. Thomas campus. 

The donated food is collected by Keystone Community Services, whose mobile food shelf visits St. Thomas once a month. Tommie Shelf was started last May to address food insecurity among students. Around 45 percent of college students experience hunger, according to a study conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. 

Casey Gordon sorts through donated groceries in front of a yellow Tommie Shelf bin at the University of St. Thomas. (Courtesy Christine Nguyen)

“It was kind of a decision to act swiftly, knowing that this was likely an issue on campus,” said Casey Gordon. Gordon is the program manager for the Center for the Common Good at St. Thomas and oversees Tommie Shelf. 

The need was made clear during Tommie Shelf’s first event; they ran out of groceries after 40 people showed up. 

In a school of unequal distribution of resources, some students may feel uneasy seeking assistance.  

“Right now, we are in the process of understanding what some of our hurdles may be to make sure that the students who are really, truly experiencing food insecurity don’t feel a stigma coming to the food shelf,” Gordon said.  

Despite the stigma, Tommie Shelf has been able to reach up to 35 people in need each month.  

When the truck rolls on to South Campus on the first Tuesday of every month, people can jump aboard and shop. Each person steps off the bus with up to 25 pounds of groceries.  

“You walk in, and it’s like a little grocery store,” Gordon said. “It’s not like here’s one random bag of pasta and a weird can of green beans.”   

Tommie Shelf is stocked by donations through a partnership with Center for the Common Good and Keystone Community Services. Keystone supplies the Center with food and resources to distribute to the community. The Center then holds a food drive every month to collect food for Keystone. 

The need for this initiative may be surprising given the school’s affluence. The cost of attending the university for a year as an undergraduate is more than a St. Paul resident’s average income. The campus itself is well-kept, spacious and modern, with a student center that cost $66 million.   

“We are a university of privilege,” Gordon said. “We want to get the neighborhood involved in donating, whether that’s monetary or donating food to the food shelf.”  

Hunger is not something that is unique to St. Thomas. Around 11.9% of Ramsey County residents and 10.5% of Hennepin County residents identify as food insecure, according to statistics from Feeding America. It is also affecting other college students around the Twin Cities. The University of Minnesota, Normandale Community College and Augsburg University have their own food pantries.  

Because of these statistics, St. Thomas plans on expanding the shelf to its Minneapolis campus, as well. The Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society plans to set up bins on the Minneapolis campus where people can donate nonperishables.  

Gordon said that she wants to see Tommie Shelf thrive.  

“(My) biggest hope is to raise awareness for people who will need the service and for people who can support the service,” she said. 

For now, the bright yellow bins and colorful food mobile will be around to serve a hungry campus.  

If you’re interested in donating, you can drop off food in  a yellow bin on the St. Thomas campus or you can donate at keystoneservices.org.