The Shop: The Hidden Pantry Serving a Hidden Need

Nimish Salunke’s five roommates are usually asleep when he returns from his Fondren Library shift at 2:30 a.m. The Indian network engineering graduate student is generally in bed by 3 a.m., giving him four hours of sleep before he wakes up at 7 a.m.

“I like to cook; that’s my thing,” Salunke said in the quiet voice of a late-night library worker. “But I haven’t really got much time because of the studies.” When it’s not school, it could be work, applying for jobs after graduation, or his share of the chores at home.

“Usually we have fresh cooked every day,” Salunke said. Cooking for six, some of whom are vegetarians or don’t eat certain meats, is an impressive feat on a schedule like Salunke’s. But his situation is just one of many for which “The Shop” was made.

The Shop is SMU’s food pantry tucked away in the back of Fondren’s Blue section. While it was originally created for those within the SMU community experiencing food insecurity, it is open to all who need it.

Fondren is an ideal location for the pantry for many reasons. Among them are its generous hours and familiar campus location; paramount, however, is the privacy that it offers to those on a campus with a reputation for wealth and privilege.

“You wouldn’t think, looking at SMU and our campus, that there was a need, but there is,” director of Parent and Family Programs Deanie Kepler said. “We opened up right before Thanksgiving last year, and since then it’s just kind of increased.”

Recipe ideas from the Highland Park High School group Combat Hunger Our Way (C.H.O.W) hang from the shelves.
Recipe ideas from the Highland Park High School group Combat Hunger Our Way (C.H.O.W) hang from the shelves. Photo credit: Audrey McClure

The Shop began in November 2018 with a $1000 private donation to the Office of Parent and Family Programs but soon evolved to include the Office of Student Support, SMU Libraries, and various organizations around Dallas.

“It’s really interesting how a lot of people have put their heart and soul into it,” said assistant circulation manager Samantha Cavanaugh, “But I don’t know that everybody knows enough about it. I know they’ve tried.”

Anyone with a SMU ID can check out a key to the pantry at the front desk, which is then handed to them with a bag for groceries. Discretion is at the forefront of these interactions.

“We would welcome anybody who has any need or want,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s why it’s here, for the SMU community. We just want everyone to feel free to come up here and ask for The Shop.”

Organizers have tried to accommodate more of the SMU community by adding healthier, fresher, and more convenient options, but have also grappled with the increased scrutiny that comes with greater resources.

Oatmeal is one of the most popular items in The Shop. Oatmeal boxes on the shelf with a card saying add sugar, fresh fruit, or granola to your oatmeal for a hearty breakfast!
Oatmeal is one of the most popular items in The Shop. Photo credit: Audrey McClure

“The more popular it becomes and the more word of mouth that people are needy, the more we need people to help us stock it,” Kepler said. “We’re looking at becoming a partner of North Texas Food Bank, but one of the issues is that that they get federal money. People would have to register and lose their anonymity a little.”

The Shop’s flexibility allows for a wide variety of needs, including those not necessarily borne out of necessity. For Salunke, the Shop can sometimes provide a taste of home. During a rare free moment, Salunke used pineapple and sugar from the Shop to make a traditional celebratory Marathi dessert with his brother.

“It was nice,” Salunke said simply with a smile.

The Shop accepts donations of non-perishable food and basic essentials. Donations can be dropped off at the Fondren Library Main Desk or in the Dean of Students Office located in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center in suite 302. Visit The Shop’s website for an up-to-date list about needed items and more details.

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