The woman behind the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry


Kathleen Moroney started the Wildcat Food Pantry out of her desk drawers and her pocket. Photo credit: Sean Martens

In 2011, Admin Analyst / Specialist Kathleen Moroney sat at her desk in the Chico State Student Affairs office. When the phone rang, she had no idea that this call would soon change thousands of students’ lives.

A fellow faculty member called who was worried about one of the students in their class. This particular student was so hungry that they could not pay attention to the lesson, so the staff member asked where the food pantry on campus was located.

Since Moroney was new to Chico State, she made calls to multiple different departments to see if there was a student food pantry, but her search eventually came up empty. From that point on, Moroney made it her mission to start a food pantry that would help students to be better nourished. This one phone call triggered a passion in Moroney that spread like wildfire.

The pantry kicked off in the form of faculty members keeping food in their desk drawers. If a student seemed like they were unable to focus, the staff would offer them food.

“So many of us on campus had food in our drawer that we were providing to our students,” Moroney said. “It was just another thing we would do.”

Soon, keeping food in drawers didn’t seem to handle students’ needs, so Moroney took greater action. The pantry had outgrown desk drawers and received its own office in a vacant Kendall Hall room.

However, Moroney knew the importance of providing students with good food so she took another step.

“It took about two years of greasing the wheels to get permission to put out barrels to collect food, but I think that was part of the reason why we became successful, because I took that time to talk about it,” Moroney said.

Morony noticed that there is a definite connection between doing well academically and eating enough food to stay healthy.

“But there is a correlation in there, it’s really hard to pay attention in class when you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from,” Moroney said. “Then of course (there’s) the whole ‘feed the brain, feed the body’ nutrition aspect of it. It’s such an important part of being able to function well in life and especially well in college.”

While Moroney is very humble about her part in creating major change on campus, she has received her fair share of recognition from others on campus.

“The greatest thing that happened: Back in 2013, Joe (Picard) came in and found me, and said ‘you’re Kathleen Moroney! I am just so happy that you started a food pantry!’” Moroney said.

This encounter was the beginning of a partnership between Moroney and Picard that proved to be unstoppable. Soon after, Picard had an idea.

“There’s a group of students, a club, the Organic Vegetable Project, who grow vegetables, so Joe took twenty dollars of his own money and he wanted to make ‘Veggie Bucks’ out of it, so we made monopoly money with broccoli on it,” Moroney said.

Together, they handed out the ‘Veggie Bucks’ to students to see how many turned up. This was a way for students to receive fresh vegetables at the farmers market downtown.

Later, Moroney decided to put a tip jar out because faculty and staff will put money out, and that way they can buy more ‘Veggie Bucks.’

Soon Moroney and Picard set up a partnership with Center for Healthy Communities to provide USDA SNAP (CalFresh).

“Pantry is supplemental food, ideally short term supplemental food, to get the student stable in that situation, and then if they qualify, and almost half our students qualify for CalFresh,” Picard said.

Word about the food pantry is passing around campus, and student interns are wanting to help. Picard said, “We set up two interns here. On Monday, we had a historic record: we had twenty-one application assistants to help students do CalFresh sign ups.”

Not only is CalFresh important for helping students, but it also puts more money into the economy.

“When they use that at the farmer’s market, that money then gets transferred to the farmer and the different farmers we have here benefit,” Picard said.

Moroney said that her wildest dream would be connecting our community, farmers, Soroptimists, lions club and salvation army to the students.

“What we started so many years ago has become this incredible working of the community, the Chico State community and the students [themselves] to help the students succeed,” Moroney said.

Moroney’s hard work eventually paid off, because the food pantry is now a CSU system wide policy, which supports the needs of displaced and food insecure students.

Caitlyn Young can be reached at [email protected] or @Orion_CaitlynY on Twitter.