National volunteer organization will work with on-campus groups to help with TU food insecurity programs
Growing up in Baltimore, Luke Birdsong knew he wanted to help his hometown. Even when he went to college at the University of California–Berkeley, he knew he would find his way back to the Baltimore area.
When an opportunity arose through the AmeriCorps VISTA program to work at Towson University this summer, he jumped at the chance.
The program—Volunteers in Service to America—sends individuals to programs around the country aimed at eradicating poverty.
This includes food insecurity, which, according to Feeding America, will affect more than 54 million Americans this year due COVID-19, an dramatic increase from the 37 million Americans in 2018.
Before going to law school next fall, Birdsong will spend the year helping the Towson University FoodShare program fight food insecurity as a AmeriCorps VISTA Food Insecurity Initiative representative. While campus is quiet due to the pandemic, Birdsong has been hard at work preparing the pantry.
“I wanted to spend more time at home and giving back to my community,” Birdsong says. “It’s been good, but definitely strange because I’m starting a new position remotely. While it’s been a challenge, everyone I’ve worked with has been very accommodating in helping me get situated.”
Towson University has two programs that address food insecurity. The TU Food Insecurity Fund and FoodShare Programs were created for TU community members without reliable access to sufficient affordable, nutritious food.
The Food Insecurity Fund provides immediate financial assistance to TU students deemed by the Student Emergency Fund to have food insecurities.
The FoodShare food pantry provides Towson University faculty, students and staff in need a weekly bag of food. The Table: a Lutheran Episcopal ministry, the Office of Sustainability and the Division of Student Affairs collaborate to maintain the pantry.
This group will partner with AmeriCorps VISTA for the next three years, aiming to make the FoodShare pantry financially self-sustainable.
Birdsong is the first AmeriCorps VISTA member to help with the pantry and is excited to lay the groundwork for future volunteers. But he admits the existing infrastructure is already pretty impressive.
“Pastor Laura Sinche [of The Table] and Towson University have built a fantastic foundation for the FoodShare program,” Birdsong says. “The space is much bigger than what I was expecting, and they have built a great network that supplies the pantry with donations.
“There is also a financial connection where, if we are running low in some areas, we have the capacity to buy the things we need. It’s a fantastic infrastructure.”
The pantry is located at the Ward and West Health and Counseling Center. The entrance is at the back of the building, directly across from the main entrance to Residence Tower.
Students, faculty and staff can receive up to 10 items every week during the term when Towson University is in session. Those interested in using the FoodShare will need to provide their TU ID and fill out an intake form prior to accessing the pantry.
It is open on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and individuals can make an appointment through email. Those looking to donate nonperishable items can do so during those hours. If an organization is interested in hosting a food drive in partnership with the FoodShare Pantry, a representative can contact Birdsong directly.
Those in need of additional assistance can download the new Maryland county-by-county food pantry resource guide.
This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland.