In addition to dealing with the challenges of online classes and canceled commencement ceremonies due to COVID-19, University of Minnesota students are also dealing with addressing basic needs like grocery shopping.
University students are having a harder time getting groceries as the only easily walkable grocery store option for many is a small section of the Dinkytown Target Express. While University services like the Nutritious U Food Pantry are stepping up for students who may be experiencing difficulty accessing food, others say they wish there were a more convenient full-service grocery store.
Sophomore Jane Weesner normally gets her groceries from the Dinkytown Target or rides public transportation to Trader Joe’s. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, she has avoided using public transportation and either walks to a store or relies on her parents to get groceries.
Weesner also said that she used to get groceries after class when she was much closer to the light rail stop. Now that classes are online, it is less convenient and safe to go out, she said.
“It is kind of dangerous and you have to use public transportation,” Weesner said.
From campus, the walk to the nearby Trader Joe’s on Washington Avenue is about two miles each way. Weesner said that the Dinkytown Target has basics but not enough options. Sophomore Ally Slaughter said she also prefers going to Trader Joe’s because it has more vegetarian options.
Slaughter said she and her roommates usually borrow a friend’s car and drive to Aldi for their grocery shopping during the school year. Now that people have moved home, she has to walk any time she gets groceries. She said that it has not been a big deal yet because she is buying less food at this time.
“During the regular school year, it’s really a bummer that the only grocery store is the Dinkytown Target, and it’s super expensive,” Slaughter said.
For students who may be struggling to afford groceries, the University is providing more services through the Nutritious U Food Pantry, a Boynton Health service that purchases groceries and distributes them to students who use the service. The food pantry normally operates three days a month, but now the service is staying open every weekday likely through the end of the semester.
The food pantry is normally run by Boynton employees and student volunteers who work under Rebecca Leighton, the program’s founder. Now, only Boynton employees are working after Gov. Tim Walz issued the stay-at-home order, she said.
Leighton said that along with changing Nutritious U’s schedule, there is also a new delivery option for students who may not feel safe leaving their homes or have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus.
“Students are balancing their needs and doing what they can,” Leighton said.
Leighton said that Nutritious U is taking extra precautions to keep people safe by providing face masks for workers, moving closer to the doors of Coffman Union and reducing the number of staff working per shift.
The food pantry normally operates as a small grocery store, but she said that now bags are prepackaged and students can choose whichever bag they like best or switch out some items. In light of the changes, employees have been matching the need.
Leighton said, “I’ve had fewer open shifts than ever before, and everyone is stepping up.”