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UNC food pantries and organizations work to combat food insecurity on campus

Carolina Cupboard, pictured here, is located in Avery Residence Hall in Chapel Hill on Thursday, Jan 26. 2023. Carolina Cupboard provides free food for UNC students who are experiencing food insecurity.

September is Hunger Action Month and many UNC food pantries and organizations are aiming to combat and destigmatize food insecurity on campus.

A pre-COVID-19 study by Professor Maureen Berner reported that 56.2 percent of the entire UNC student body felt food secure, 21.6 percent were on the margins and 22.2 percent reported low security or very low security.

Berner said when students were asked to score their academic progress, the food-insecure students consistently rated themselves at a lower level than the food-secure students.

As the co-president of UNC’s Nutrition Coalition and a current candidate getting her master's in public health in Dietetics, Rebecca Scothorn said she has watched CJ’s Cupboard, a student-led food pantry located in Gillings School of Public Health, grow since 2021.

Ellie Geiselhart, a co-chair for CJ’s Cupboard, is a Nutrition major trying to destigmatize the use of food pantries and show the importance of nutrition to all students.

“A lot of college students don’t know where they can get help because the help isn’t being provided to them and it's not always easy to find information about where you can get food aid,” Geiselhart said. 

She also said CJ’s Cupboard is important because it provides access to food for all students — ranging from those who are financially struggling to those who occasionally forget to bring food to campus. 

A possible solution to food insecurity at UNC is increasing awareness of on-campus food pantries, Geiselhart said.

“For a lot of people who are food secure, they have never even thought twice about not having access to food,” she said. “We don’t have a lack of food being provided to people; the issue is being able to afford it.”

While CJ’s Cupboard is located in the Gillings School and primarily serves public health students, Carolina Cupboard is a food pantry more widely accessible to all UNC students, faculty and staff.

As the events and fundraising chair for Carolina Cupboard, Meghan Conroy is working to welcome community members to the food pantry and ensure their comfort in the experience.

“We have a discrete location at the basement of Avery Hall, we use Harris Teeter grocery bags, so nobody knows you just came out of there,” Conroy said. “It looks like you just went shopping. That's something that’s really important to us as well — to make people feel welcome.”

While on-campus organizations and food pantries work hard to provide students with food aid, some struggle with funding. Some groups, like Edible Campus UNC, receive annual funding from the Residence Hall Association and Carolina Dining Services, while other groups, like CJ’s Cupboard, are not as consistently funded.

For example, CJ’s Cupboard received a grant from CDS in the spring of 2023 but only received the funds in mid-September, leaving them unable to stock the food pantry over the summer.

“We use an Amazon wishlist that people can donate to, but the UNC faculty are the ones donating to that wishlist,” Scothorn said. “The UNC faculty are the ones keeping the food pantry stocked but the University is not really helping us keep it stocked.”

In a statement about the University’s support of on-campus food security organizations, UNC Media Relations said that, “Specific to food insecurity, the [Basic Needs] Task Force is working closely with campus and community organizations to help advance, coordinate, and resource existing efforts.”

Media Relations also said the purpose of the Basic Needs Task Force — which is composed of students, faculty, staff and community members — is to address basic needs and insecurities on campus with a specific focus on students.

“It’s really important for everyone to know that anyone who is sitting through classes at Gillings or sitting through any lecture at Chapel Hill needs to be fueled," Geiselhart said. "Their body needs to be nourished in order for them to be able to learn at their best."


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