While charities like Angel Tree aim to make sure children do not go without Christmas presents and food, a college-based food and hygiene pantry has developed a new program to help meet the basic needs of its students over winter break.

The Lion Co-op at Missouri Southern State University recently launched its annual Adopt A Lion program. Community members can sponsor a student in December by donating necessities such as hygiene products, food and warm clothing.

Students who need essential items over the monthlong winter break can sign up to be anonymously paired with a community sponsor who will ensure their basic needs are met over the next several weeks. The application includes a series of questions about the person requesting assistance to give the sponsor a better understanding of the student's needs.

"Here at Missouri Southern, we care about students and really want them to have the support that they need," said Chrislynn Powers, 21, a student intern at the Lion Co-op. "Food insecurity is real, but having a place that students can come and not have to fill out a bunch of papers or feel ashamed that they come in is amazing."

Initially, the pantry was intended to assist at least 20 students over winter break for the inaugural year, but 26 students have already signed up for the program. There are currently 25 sponsors. During the regular semester, the pantry helped about 40 people.

Students were informed of the winter pantry service in an email sent this month with a link to the application. On the first day, 15 signed up.

More students are expected to enroll by next week, which would create a need for additional donors.

Any donors who can’t provide for all of a student's needs can provide specific items that the co-op could use next semester. Needed items include milk, bread, eggs, scarves, gloves and tissues.

Donations can be dropped off from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, at the Lion Co-op, which is located in the Federal Emergency Management Agency storm shelter next to the residence halls. Approved applicants can pick up their donations from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9, at that location.

Gil Salgado, 21, a senior who also interns at the co-op, came up with the idea for the pantry to start the Adopt A Lion program after being inspired by other benevolent organizations. Salgado said he thought it would be neat to apply a concept like the Angel Tree program to the MSSU campus, focusing on staples rather than gifts.

"It's really rewarding to know that I’m going to leave a lasting impact, and I might be gone next year, but hopefully this program is still here,” Salgado said. "We have a lot of sponsors who want to sponsor the whole year. They want to keep giving, and they want to get to know the people that they’re sponsoring."

Even though the program was designed to benefit students during the winter, Salgado said they’re going to try to apply it year-round in the future.

"At the end of this Adopt A Lion, we’re going to contact those sponsors and their Lions and ask if they would be willing to continue a relationship throughout the next coming semester and maybe even further on after that," he said. "They could really get to know them and their needs, but also know who they are and what they want out of life."

Co-op history

Three faculty members — Andrea Cullers from the kinesiology department, Renee White from the social work department and Megan Bever from the history department — founded the Lion Co-op in 2018 to help address and combat food insecurity among college students, which is prevalent nationwide. Food insecurity is defined as the inability to consistently access or afford adequate, nutritious food.

A 2017 study on the MSSU campus determined that more than 250 students had remained on campus during the winter break when the food pantry is closed. Limited meals are served in Mayes Dining Hall between semesters.

"We weren’t sure how this program was going to turn out because this time of year there are so many groups that are asking for things, so it’s really incredible," Cullers said. "I think this is something we’ll definitely continue to do every year and hopefully grow it."

Over the past year, the Lion Co-op has continued to expand and transform as it meets the needs of the campus community. A class from the university’s industrial engineering department reorganized the co-op to distribute items more effectively, donated plywood for shelving and categorized inventory. Shopping baskets also are available.

"Now, it feels more like a store," Salgado said. "It’s come a really long way."

Want to get involved?

Anyone wishing to participate in the Adopt A Lion program can contact the Lion Co-op at 417-659-4210 or by email at LionCoOp@mssu.edu. An online application can be found at https://bit.ly/2XAne3b.

The Lion Co-op is open from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 1 to 2 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to noon Friday and from 4 to 6 p.m. every second and fourth Sunday. It will be closed during winter break.

Anyone needing ideas on how to cook with food from the co-op can visit the YouTube channel “Cooking with the Lion Co-op.”

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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