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Food for Thought

purple pantry illustration
Image: Photo illustration by David Schwen

Fall 2018

When Mary Deeley ’89 PhD, pastoral associate at Sheil Catholic Center, read a spring 2016 Daily Northwestern story about students battling food insecurity, she was shocked.

“Why are there students who are hungry on this campus, where food is seemingly everywhere?” Deeley asks.

She quickly set up meetings with the student group Points for a Purpose (now Swipe Out Hunger), another campus minister and the head of Student Enrichment Services. Over the next year, Deeley worked with SES, student-led anti-hunger organizations and other campus ministries to create a pop-up food pantry during holiday breaks. Those partners eventually established the Purple Pantry, where students can pick up nonperishables and fresh fruits and vegetables donated by the University community. The pantry, which is open one day a week or by appointment, is staffed by Northwestern volunteers and housed at Sheil Catholic Center.

Food insecurity continues to be a prominent issue nationally. A 2018 survey of 66 colleges and universities by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that more than a third of all college students experience food insecurity in a given month.

According to anonymous intake surveys, nearly nine out of 10 Purple Pantry clients said they had skipped a meal at least one day in a two-week period because they lacked adequate access to food; 12 percent skipped meals on four or more days. The most common barriers to food accessibility were inconvenient dining hall hours for those on campus and lack of money for those off campus. More than half of the pantry users reported that they share food with family or friends.

“Often we don’t know what our students’ lives are like,” Deeley says. “We are beginning to see students for whom money is really tight. They’re counting every penny. It is important for people to know this resource exists.”

For more information on how to volunteer or donate to the Purple Pantry, email


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