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Rachel Hendryx is behind a hydroponic garden tower

Grad student has become lynchpin of FRIENDS of the University Pantry

By Blake Sebring

October 17, 2023

Every Thursday, Rachel Hendryx, B.A. ’23, knows she’s going to hear personal stories that will leave a mark on her. It’s one of many reasons she loves working at the FRIENDS of the University Pantry.

“There’s an older lady who is a veteran who lives off her benefits and Social Security,” said Hendryx, a graduate student and Well-being and Recreation intern who helps run the pantry. “She’s a recovering alcoholic and so is her ex-husband. She’ll tell you her rent just went up and her benefits went down, but she brings Eric [Manor] and me a present every week she comes—a bar of chocolate or a loaf of zucchini bread.”

Hendryx is sort of like the pantry’s hostess, always greeting everyone as they come through the door and making them feel comfortable. She answers questions and helps in any way she can. She also orders the food each week, assists with stocking the shelves, and runs the numbers, which continue to increase.

Eric Manor, director of Well-being and Recreation, hired Hendryx as a freshman in 2019. Now she can recite the pantry’s statistics off the top of her head. After serving a record 1,619 visitors over the summer, including 1,012 students, more than 1,400 people utilized the pantry during the first month of the fall semester. Almost 85 percent of those who visited the pantry during that time frame are students, a figure that remains fairly consistent throughout the year.

“Managing the pantry takes a lot of time, effort, energy, and dedication,” Manor said. “It’s obvious how much Rachel cares for the pantry and for those who use it. Rachel consistently goes above and beyond to ensure we can serve all visitors each week. Our team is deeply appreciative of everything Rachel does.”

Since opening in 2017, the number of visitors and students have increased almost annually, including 4,307 in 2020, to 5,102 last year, and 6,038 so far in 2023—an 18 percent increase with more than two months remaining on the calendar. Hendryx believes the total might approach 10,000 by winter break.

Many students are believed to use the pantry because Purdue University Fort Wayne is located in the middle of a “food desert” with no easy access to grocery stores. Inflation is another big recent reason offered by users.

“Sometimes they just need something, especially the incoming freshman, to help them get their feet on the ground,” Hendryx said. “I needed it, too, when I came here. I was on campus, over in housing, in a whole new city, and I didn’t know anybody. [It was] a whole new routine, mentality—everything. I used the pantry in the beginning, too, to hold you over until you could get that next paycheck, or until that next gift from family to help you get some groceries. Maybe your car broke down and you had to spend a little bit of extra money to get it fixed—and that came out of your grocery expenses.”

Sometimes to provide help, the pantry needs to ask for it. The Community Harvest Food Bank’s annual “U Can Crush Hunger” campaign among eight area universities runs Oct. 23–Nov. 11. The competition is based on the pounds of canned food donated, though money is also accepted, with $1 equaling four pounds. Last year, PFW finished third in the event with a school-record 18,454 pounds donated.

Donations are always welcome, and there’s a way to contribute money online as well.

A unique thing about the PFW pantry is that anyone can take advantage of its services—students, staff, and the general public—because there are no residential restrictions as with other food banks. The pantry is happy to help anyone in need from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays on the ground floor at Walb Student Union, Room G36. The pantry’s student housing clubhouse location, which is reserved for students only, is open 4–7 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays.