ASI Cougar Pantry provides aid to students despite COVID impact

Antonio Pequeño, Editor-in-Chief

Courtesy of ASI

In the face of the blow that COVID-19 has dealt to several campus entities and programs, the ASI Cougar Pantry quickly adapted its operations and continued its effort to lessen food insecurity at CSUSM.

The ASI Cougar Pantry, which previously offered free produce distribution days in addition to a physical resource pantry, shifted to pantry pop-ups that ran on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m before it was eventually cancelled following its April 1 distribution. ASI is now aiming to operate mobile, drive-through distributions that can be held once a week starting on April 22.

The remainder of this story was published while the ASI Cougar Pantry was still in operation during the first week of April.

“We tried to maintain our operations the best we could since we know this is a basic needs resource…” said an ASI representative. “We still ‘shop’ at the North County Food Bank (NCFB) and have food delivered from Feeding San Diego (FSD) but now we only have 3 staff that continue to maintain the current operations. Our other staff have returned to their homes.”

The switch to a pop-up style distribution brought no particular difficulties to the pantry, as this was how it operated when it first began operating at CSUSM. CSUSM Housing was fundamental in giving the ASI Cougar Pantry a place to distribute.

The ASI representative said, “They (CSUSM Housing) help us set up tables and help us clean up after distribution. It has really been a great, collaborative effort—especially our off-campus partners (NCFB and FSD) are working so hard to serve folks affected by COVID-19.”

Courtesy of ASI

Although a location and resources have been secured, the matter of social distancing was a prime concern for ASI.

“Our biggest hurdle was probably figuring out if we would be allowed to keep distributing based on social distancing guidelines. We know students need this resource so our main focus was serving students to the best of our abilities,” said the representative.

ASI has implemented a touch it, take it rule and asked students to practice social distancing at the pantry. Students are also asked to bring their own reusable bags.

As of Friday, March 27, ASI had around 180 students attend its pop-up distributions in total. 

“The folks who come by seem to appreciate it! We would love to hear their feedback on the sense of community feeling. But from our side, we are here in ASI to serve students and we feel lucky that we have been able to continue that service because we know folks are in need,” said the representative.

The representative said that whether in times of crisis or not, working with the pantry is always fulfilling. They said, “We are lucky to have team members who are able and willing to continue our operations during this time so we can continue to serve CSUSM students.”

ASI Cougar Pantry staff member Ben Moorhead said, “During times of need where people really need help, being able to support our students and staff is that much more rewarding.”

Another staff member, Riley McLaughlin, echoed Moorhead’s sentiment. “This work is soul-feeding and I’m very fortunate I’m able to continue helping others, especially at a time like this. It fills me up,” said McLaughlin.

The ASI Cougar Pantry website, which has links to off-campus emergency resources, can be found at