A food pantry that could help these students is in the works at UNC and is tentatively scheduled to open this fall.
The idea was conceptualized by UNC junior Roderick Gladney , who said he’s been developing an on-campus food pantry, named Carolina Cupboard, since last spring.
“There have been times when I’ve been hungry and not had meal swipes and not had a job,” he said. “We were trying to find a way for student government to reach out to students and came up with the idea of a food bank.”
M., a UNC sophomore who wished to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, has struggled with hunger, too.
For the first 13 years of her life, she and her mom got their meals from a food pantry. Now she’s a full-time student, working two part-time jobs and struggling to keep food on the table.
M. supports herself financially, but even with two jobs, by the end of the two-week pay period, she’s still struggling for money to buy food.
“It’s really stressful to think about when I’m going to be able to eat,” she said.
Carolina Cupboard aims to help students like M. It would be student-led, but Gladney said he plans to create an advisory board comprised of student leaders and administrative staff, at the suggestion of Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls.
Gladney said, for now, the pantry will just be open to students predominantly below the poverty level before it is opened to staff and faculty.
“We hope we get enough momentum so we can help staff as well,” he said. “If they’re hungry, that means their families are hungry.”
There is a supplementary food source in place for UNC housekeepers, called Carolina Campus Community Garden that provides free produce.
In order to provide food, Gladney said he wants to work with Carolina Dining Services to use food that would have been thrown away and give it back to the students. Gladney also wants to see nonperishable foods donated and — if possible — start a swipe donation program in the dining halls.
“There are food banks in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area, but it may be inconvenient for students to go off campus to get food,” he said. “I want this one to be accessible and sustainable.”
Gladney said he would also try creating partnerships with stores like Whole Foods, Food Lion and Harris Teeter that could potentially donate to the campus food supply. He wants to work with the Residence Hall Association and create a partnership in order to host food drives in dorms.
“We want to make sure it’s planned out each month so there is a continuous intake of food,” he said.
Gladney said he is currently trying to find a location on campus to use as a storage unit for the pantry — but in the meantime, he is willing to use his apartment for storage.
A statewide trend
Other colleges across the state have already started on-campus food pantries and have seen a positive response.
Ellen Furby, the executive director of the student leadership team for N.C. State University’s food pantry, said anyone who is a member of the NCSU community — students, faculty or staff — can use it without proof of need.
“Literally anyone can walk in the door,” she said. “We work off of the assumption that if you are walking in the door and you’re strong enough to do that then you’re in need — we operate on the honor system in that respect.”
Furby said the idea came up when professors started noticing more and more students struggling with food insecurity.
“The need was definitely there,” she said. “There were people who couldn’t focus during class because they hadn’t eaten all day and people who had to choose between books and food.”
NCSU’s pantry probably serves about 70 to 80 people per month, she said.
“I think most people don’t even know that there is a need, and when they hear there is one and it’s being utilized, they are surprised by that,” she said.
Furby said while the number of people the pantry serves has increased, it’s probably because of awareness of the program rather than an increased need in the community.
“We want people to be aware, but we also don’t want people to have a need for it anymore,” she said. “Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job.”
‘Unique gap on campus’
Sally Parlier, volunteer coordinator at Durham Technical Community College, said many students on campus are living at or below the poverty line, and the campus’s food pantry is in place to serve them.
Parlier said many of the pantry’s users are in need of federal assistance but might not qualify for financial aid.
“We thought of ourselves as filling a unique gap on campus,” she said. “As a college student, if you’re juggling jobs and classes and family responsibilities, you don’t have a whole lot of extra time to go out and find a food pantry that is open to fit your schedule. We thought bringing a food pantry and having it in an academic building where it was easy to access would be good for students.”
Parlier estimated the pantry sees about 100 visits per week — 60 of these visits being unduplicated visitors.
“When we first opened, we probably anticipated serving 20 to 30 people in the first week, and we saw that on our first day,” she said. “I’m sure there are people out there who could use our help and who haven’t heard of us yet. Right now we’re doing the best we can to feed the people who come to us.”
N.C. Central University opened the doors to its campus pantry last Monday.
Deborah Bailey, director of NCCU’s academic community service learning program, said NCCU’s pantry offers toiletries and personal items in addition to food. It’s currently only available to students.
Food pantries are changing now to accommodate people in need from all demographics, she said.
“It’s no longer that place across town or by the railroad tracks,” she said. “It’s a place for people of all circumstances who find themselves needing to supplement their own resources.”
Gladney said he would be working continuously on Carolina Cupboard through both summer sessions with the goal of opening it by September or October.
“Even though I may not be here, the need will still be here — if we’re not doing our purpose of alleviating food insecurities, all I’ve done in terms of research and meetings will be for naught,” he said. “We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew — we want to make sure we’re serving our purpose here.”