Wayne State Students Create Emergency Food Pantry in Detroit Neighborhood

A 2019 Ford College Community Challenge winning project pivots as a result of COVID-19

Individual standing in back of semitrailer surrounded by brown cardboard boxes
Zaid Mohsen, founder of Auntie Na’s student organization at Wayne State University, prepares to deliver FEMA boxes to Detroit families in need.

DETROIT — The relationship between Wayne State University (WSU) School of Medicine and Auntie Na's House—a nonprofit community organization on Detroit's west side—began in 2017 when medical students volunteered to check blood pressure and provided other necessities in the neighborhood for their co-curricular program. The program has since grown into an on-campus student group, Auntie Na's Student Organization at WSU, that works with Auntie Na's House throughout the year on a variety of projects focusing on medical needs and hunger relief efforts.

With Auntie Na's House an established and trusted community partner, students from WSU were able to transition and focus their efforts on COVID-19 relief as the impacts started to weigh on the neighborhood and support was needed from the organization.

"When the state of emergency was declared and universities began shutting down, everyone at the Auntie Na's Village and Auntie Na's Student Organization were prepared to hunker down. But the people we serve did not wait for a press release, and those who needed food started calling," stated Zaid Mohsen, founder of the Auntie Na's Student Organization at Wayne State University.

Since then, WSU medical students and volunteers have been safely serving more than 300 families each week with the help of the overflowing donations of food and supplies in addition to food boxes from FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency). The team has implemented mandatory social distancing, the use of mask and gloves, and sanitizing measures.

"In response to this pandemic and to meet the needs of the families and community we serve, we have converted all of our available space into a COVID-19 pandemic food delivery program over the past month and a half," said Lakshman Mulpuri, vice president of the Auntie Na Student Organization.

Female using shovel in front yard garden while second female watches from the porch steps of gray house with purple railing
Volunteers tend to the urban garden, which received a $15,000 Ford College Community Challenge grant in 2019 for a nutrition project led by School of Medicine students.

On top of providing COVID-19 relief, the Auntie Na's Student Organization has been able to continue their efforts around a new sustainable neighborhood nutrition program. This new program, which includes the creation of an urban garden to provide food security and promote healthy eating habits won a $15,000 grant from Ford Motor Company Fund in 2019 through the Ford College Community Challenge—a global grant competition that empowers college students to envision and lead change in their communities. The student organization found a new energy complete their project after COVID-19 greater exposed the need for hunger reliefs efforts in the neighborhood.

"Our main point of utilizing the Ford grant is about creating a self-sustaining nutrition neighborhood, and we thought that the avenue to do that was to create a garden. This will be a great way to educate community members about how to plant their own garden and will be used as an opportunity to promote our already existing Corner Store Program, that creates a symbiotic relationship between both that is self-sustaining," explained Dhruvil Patel, president of the Auntie Na's Student Organization.

The Auntie Na's Student Organization hopes to expand the number of FEMA food boxes, provide additional help for access to transportation and implement a potential "drive-through" option for those able to pick up any necessities they need.

"Auntie Na's Village will continue to maintain and expand our program for the duration of this pandemic and well after its conclusion for our elderly, disabled, and single parents with young kids," Mulpuri concluded.

 

The Auntie Na Student Organization at Wayne State University is in need of volunteers and donations since they are diverting all available resources to maintain the food box program. If people want to come volunteer, please fill out this form!