Major: Information Systems and Operations Management
Hometown: Sterling, Virginia
Senior Noah Shoates is one of the student directors of Mason’s Patriot Pantry, formerly known as the Pop-Up Pantry, which is a branch of the university’s Student Support and Advocacy Center that collects staple food and hygiene items for food- and/or housing-insecure Mason students. With help from donors and student volunteers, Shoates and his fellow student director, Gary Hooker, served more than 70 students last semester.
Getting on Board: The pantry was started in December 2014 by a graduate assistant and a full-time University Life staffer who identified the need for a pantry based on student survey results. Shoates first heard of the project when one of the founders came to his Leadership and Community Engagement Living Learning Community class to reach out to potential volunteers. Shoates had previous experience with a food pantry initiative from another community service project. He saw that the volunteers not only helped people get access to high-quality food, but they also served as a support system. “It’s more than just a pantry,” he says. “It’s a community.”
Finding Inspiration: As a student director, Shoates spends more than 10 hours a week researching food and home insecurity, organizing food drives, speaking in classes, and setting up outreach initiatives. His favorite moments, however, are when he shares in the students’ successes. “The students have such powerful stories. They are very strong and are not only earning amazing GPAs, but they are also going through way more than most people should ever have to experience in their entire life. It’s truly inspiring.”
Feels like Family: According to Shoates, working with the Patriot Pantry has been one of the most difficult—and the most rewarding—experiences of his academic career. The volunteers, he says, are also like family. “I can’t stress enough how much our volunteers mean to us.”
Future Projects: With help from his team, Shoates also set up a new pantry in Malaysia with a member of the Young Southeast Asia Initiative. The pantry team also plans to share their organizational structure with food pantries at other universities that may find that they are not meeting some of their students’ needs.