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Caleb receives food from Midwest Food Bank

This story is written by Danielle Witzig, a Nutrition and Dietetics student intern volunteering at MFB.

Caleb Sawe is currently studying at Illinois State University and receives from an MFB Bloomington-Normal agency, School Street Food Pantry. Caleb is an international graduate student from Nigeria, West Africa. With only $900 in hand upon his arrival and demands such as rent, groceries, school, and other expenses on his finances, he looked out for opportunities to save costs.

He soon heard about School Street Food Pantry from friends from Nigeria staying in Normal. Since August 2021, he has been volunteering and receiving food from the pantry. He has also recently become a board member and discusses food expansion, needed items, funding, and how to reach more students from Illinois State university, Illinois Weslyan University and Heartland Community College.

Caleb has three other roommates who also attend the School Street Student Food Pantry. He says when one of his roommates can't get to the pantry, he picks up things that his other roommates would like. His roommates and Caleb explain how receiving the food items from the pantry is one less worry on their expenses, and it's helpful to have other roommates share the things they received. He said they never have to buy toiletries, cheese, canned vegetables and meats, fresh and frozen meats, and produce. The pantry has helped them immensely with their food expenses.

He learned firsthand how wonderful the volunteers and staff are while working at the food pantry. They have a strong commitment to supporting both local and international students in Bloomington-Normal. Concerns about the students' diets are shared by the staff and volunteers. To serve as many people as possible, they do a fantastic job locating resources and keeping track of who is coming. Caleb is incredibly appreciative of the caring, committed individuals who work at the pantry.

Caleb finds many items he looks for when he attends the food pantry. He usually picks up produce, yogurt, canned food, meat, bread, bananas, pasta, and spices. His favorites are yogurt, ham, okra, eggplant, and sausages. As a graduate student, life can get hectic, and cooking from scratch can take time. Caleb enjoys grabbing items he can microwave, such as canned meats and vegetables, to save time. The most common things he has observed participants taking are eggs, milk, pizza, chicken, bread, and snacks. Food pantries are not common back home and Caleb is grateful to be a student in Bloomington-Normal with great food support systems.

Caleb enjoys exploring and has had the opportunity to try out various "unusual" items. After receiving them from the pantry, he tried the edible cookie dough and premade cookies for the first time. He has also developed a taste for pork and, at one point, included it in his weekly diet. The ham and sausage initially tasted extremely salty, and it took some time to get used to it. To his surprise, the ham he has come to enjoy is made from pork, which he did not like when he was younger. He is known to experiment with his food and has even made sausage burritos out of sausages and tortilla wraps.

The School Street Food Pantry serves a diverse population of local and international students. Fortunately, the pantry makes an effort to accommodate all of them. Everyday African staples such as fufu flour, halal meat for Muslim students, Asian spices, American favorites, and gluten-free and vegetarian options are frequently available. This allows local students to try international dishes and international students to feel at home while learning about American cuisine. The pantry also tries to stock household necessities. The food pantry provided Caleb with pots and cutting boards. He also received a $5 coupon from the pantry to use at a local church sale.

Caleb is grateful for the pantry and enjoys volunteering there. He believes the pantry fills an important gap in combating food insecurity for local and international students attending Bloomington-Normal colleges. Caleb and others like him are why Midwest Food Bank provides food to partner agencies. Donating and volunteering are two ways you can help. 

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