Sunbird Pantry Fresno Pacific’s latest vision for healthy students

By wayne.steffen on February 15, 2018 @ 5:16pm
Fresno Pacific University President and Vice Presidents join together for dedication of the new Sunbird Pantry

Colorful cans and boxes of prepared food lined the shelves at the Sunbird Pantry, 4847 E. Heaton Ave., Fresno, on the main Fresno Pacific University campus, as Joseph Jones, Ph.D., university president, and his wife, Yvette, laughingly discussed how to best cut the cross-shaped dedication ribbon on the door—her suggestion carried. Students, faculty, staff, administrators and visitors then toured the facility as student volunteers explained operating hours and how students could check out food and donors could give.

While the mood was celebratory—with sunny winter weather and sugary brownies and cookies to enjoy—speakers during the hour-long dedication February 15, 2018, talked about the serious need behind the pantry. Andy Souza, CEO of Community Food Bank (CFB), which is partnering with FPU, laid out the context. Fresno is one of five counties in California’s Central Valley that CFB serves, in the most productive agricultural region in the world. Yet one in three children and one in four adults in this fertile land go to bed hungry. “There are enough barriers to children getting an education, we can’t let hunger be one,” he said.

The story of the Sunbird pantry, the new chapter of which is the garage of a university-owned house, opened about 18 months ago in a closet across the street in the Office of Spiritual Formation, which oversees the pantry’s operation. Vicencia Abundis, administrative assistant to University Pastor Angulus Wilson, Ph.D., brought the big picture home. “When we were having events, we started to realize students were asking, “Is there going to be food at the event?’” she said. The question was more than the typical student desire to snack. “Students have to decide, ‘Do I buy my textbooks, or do I buy my meals?’” Abundis said.

First to step into the breach was Maria Mejia-Ng, then an FPU international student from Nicaragua. With six cans of food and a hopeful name—Loaves and Fishes—she and some friends began distributing whatever food they could collect. All the time, Mejia-Ng felt she was following a vision bigger than her eyes could see. “This pantry was started in God’s heart,” she said.

FPU First Lady Yvette Jones brought the fire for the future. “All of you know yourself how much the word is filled with caring for your neighbor, for the poor among us,” she said. Like Moses, we are called to use what is in our hand. And, like Moses, who saw in his hand only an ordinary stick instead of the staff of a leader, we all have more than we see. “God gives us all something. God makes all things mighty when we use what’s in our hands,” she said.

Not everyone can give the same amount, but there are no excuses for not giving something—even sacrificing. “You all have a widow’s mite, don’t you?” Jones asked. “If you don’t, see me and I’ll give you one.”

Some gifts were made on the spot. The FPU Students Athletic Advisory Committee gave $400, and Souza announced the Community Food Bank will match that amount. President Jones pledged more to come. “We need to remind ourselves this is our reasonable service,” he said.

The January 15 dedication of the Sunbird Food Pantry attracted extensive news coverage, including: