Mario’s Market Food Pantry
A Lifeline for Students in Need
Located on North 33rd Street just off Market Street, the Rush Building was built in 1904 as a hospital and clinic. Now part of Drexel’s University City campus, a section of the building continues to serve people through Mario’s Market, a food pantry on the 2nd floor that is operated and managed for the University community by Drexel’s Student Center for Diversity and Inclusion (SCDI).
Food insecurity is a significant issue across the nation and in Philadelphia. Almost one third of college and university students across the US might be food insecure, meaning they don’t have regular and consistent access to food. This includes many students who are employed and/or have a meal plan. In a 2019 article titled “Tuition or Dinner?,” The New York Times stated that incidences are even higher at many community and public colleges.
Drexel is not excluded from this problem, which grew in severity during the coronavirus pandemic. Following multiple discussions within SCDI, which is part of Drexel’s Office of Student Life, and involving other departments, Mario’s Market took shape (as did its name, a nod to iconic dragon statue on the University City campus).
Maurice Cottman, director of SCDI, was an early champion of adding food insecurity to the other list of challenges facing students where Drexel could offer support. He had become increasingly aware of its prevalence while he was an undergraduate student majoring in food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University. When he joined Drexel in the fall of 2017, he took part in discussions around the issue and collaborated on planning, ultimately culminating in the opening of Mario’s Market in the basement of the Creese Student Center in early 2020. During the coronavirus pandemic, when the SDCI moved a few blocks north to the Rush Building, the food pantry followed.
Mario’s Market is a collaborative effort. Unfortunately, the need for these services is ongoing. If our alumni and friends can help us with financial donations, that would go a long way to helping us serve more students and to restock the pantry more frequently.
As students return to Drexel from summer break, those in need will have access to Mario’s Market. Others with a valid DragonCard, including staff and faculty, also are welcome. Mario’s Market can be accessed anytime during the building’s opening hours, which generally (and subject to change) are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. To respect and ensure privacy, individuals can enter the locked pantry solely with a swipe of their DragonCard, search the pantry’s inventory on their own and leave with what they need at no cost.
“Many people worked long and hard to explore starting something, but Maurice definitely was our driving force,” says Jennifer Tifone, director, finance and administration, Campus Engagement, who also has been involved with the early planning and the later and current execution and management of the food pantry. Both cite active and critical partners including Katie Zamulinsky, assistant vice president, Campus Engagement, Stephanie Perna Sheairs, executive director for operations and Jenny Kaus, executive director, budgets and administration – all in the Office of Student Life – as well as many other colleagues in their office and throughout the University.
“We’ve also actively sought out advice and best practices from other universities in Philadelphia and beyond and are exploring collaborative relationships with supermarkets and nonprofit organizations,” says Cottman. “One new collaboration we’re excited about is with Philabundance, which connects people in need with food providers.”
After food is purchased by Drexel and delivered by services such as Instacart, a team of volunteers helps to put items on shelves and measure inventory. With support from University budgets and some early fundraising, the inventory at Mario’s Market has grown from non-perishable canned and boxed goods to currently include refrigerated food. At any given time, there is enough food for people to access about a week’s worth of food in one visit.
In the spring term, an estimated 70-100 people visited the pantry each week.
Cottman and Tifone anticipate that demand will rise as students return from summer break and as awareness of the pantry grows.
“We’re still in an early learning stage and are not close to reaching our full potential,” adds Cottman. “We want to gain more experience, better articulate our message and perhaps expand services. We hope to do more to create awareness around healthy food choices, working with our College of Nursing and Health Professions. We’d like to start growing our own crops and herbs on campus. Perhaps there will be ways to be more accessible to our surrounding communities.”
Currently, additional food resources are available on Drexel’s Center City and Queen Lane campuses, including a student-run food pantry at the latter.
“Mario’s Market is a collaborative effort, and we’re so grateful for the support we’ve received from Drexel’s leadership and community,” adds Zamulinsky. “Unfortunately, the need for these services is ongoing. If our alumni and friends can help us with financial donations, that would go a long way to helping us serve more students and to restock the pantry more frequently.”
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