UAFS pantry supports food insecure students
The stereotype of a hungry college student looking for change to buy ramen noodles may be more accurate than many realize.
Of 86,000 students surveyed, more than 45% experienced food insecurity in the past month, according to a 2019 study from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.
That number has likely increased during the coronavirus pandemic, as Feeding America predicts that one in eight people may experience food insecurity in 2021. The largest national organization fighting hunger has also reported that nearly 65% of their food banks were helping college hunger relief activities in 2020.
In order to support food insecure students in Fort Smith, the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith created the Dave Stevens Lion Pride Pantry.
The pantry, which started in 2019 as an outdoor blessing box, moved to the UAFS Recreation and Wellness Center and was renamed in 2020 for Dean of Students Dave Stevens.
Along with dishes like frozen chicken and non-perishable items like peanut butter and canned vegetables, the pantry also offers school supplies including notebooks, pencils and backpacks.
“This is an example of how UAFS cares about its students… and how they really equip us to be successful. They go above and beyond,” said Allysa Burns, a junior at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Burns will be the student assistant for Lion Heart, the UAFS student charity that oversees the pantry, during the next semester.
Meals to support students and families
The pantry is open six hours a week during the school year. Students can also call the UAFS Police Department to receive a bag of food.
During the fall semester of 2020, the pantry distributed 116 bags of food, 87 Thanksgiving meal kits, and 87 holiday break boxes. The need has continued to grow in the spring and summer with 158 bags of food distributed so far this year.
Meighan Pendergrass, campus recreation and wellness director, explained how the 260 family members who have been fed by the vacation boxes often have a child in college.
“[The students are] help feed their family of seven or eight. They aren’t always heads of households, which you think they might be, “Pendergrass said.” Or thinking they might be alone or that they’re a non-traditional student feeding their family, but that’s n is not normally the case. “
The fight against stigma
Food insecurity doesn’t discriminate, and Pendergrass sees it in the variety of students who visit the pantry.
“I’ve had students that I’ve met at Cub Camp. I’ve had students who have one of the highest scholarships. It’s a bit of everyone,” Pendergrass said.
Students are often referred by faculty, staff, and the Adult Diploma Completion Program. However, they can fight the stigma that comes with receiving help.
“We’ve had students say, ‘I really need food, but I don’t want to walk over there’ or ‘I’m embarrassed’, so at any time we will bring food to a student.” , Pendergrass mentioned. “… They think it’s for someone more needy than them. We try to explain that it’s for everyone.”
As a new academic year approaches, the university is preparing new pantry offerings.
The Pantry has partnered with the university’s food service provider, Chartwells, to launch a food salvage program during the fall semester. The program will provide refrigerated meals to students in need.
“So when [Chartwells does] lunches in the cafeteria or if they’re having some kind of catered event, and they have some leftover food… rather than throwing it in the trash, they’re going to wrap that food and put it in the fridge for us ”, Dave Stevens, dean of students, said.
Rachel Putman, associate director of strategic communications, said the program is the first of its kind for the university.
Another upcoming initiative will provide feminine hygiene products in all first-floor family and women’s toilets in campus buildings.
“For students, faculty, and staff or visitors, if they need to use these products… they are welcome to use them for free,” Stevens said.
How to support the pantry
Items and monetary donations come from on-campus and off-campus, including the university’s Rotary Club, St. Boniface Catholic Church, Riverview Hope Campus, and UAFS faculty, staff, and students .
For those wishing to join these organizations to support the Pantry, they should contact Dave Stevens, Dean of Students, at [email protected] or (479) 788-7696.
Due to the pandemic, the Pantry currently has restrictions on in-person volunteering.
“Most of the time, community groups want to serve as well as donate,” Pendergrass said. “… I hope after COVID we open up and they can serve our students.”
Catherine Nolte is a member of the body of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. She can be contacted at [email protected]