Student-led food pantry aims to feed peers

Michael Melkonian
Contributing Writer

The “starving student” cliche may soon come to an end at VCU.

A student food pantry planned for spring of 2014 by VCU Student Counseling Services and help from three student campus ministries will provide much needed nutrition to VCU students who find themselves in a food crisis.

Terrance Walker of VCU student counseling services, and Greg Deekins, student leader for stewardship at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church’s campus ministry, have made it their mission to feed students.

“There is a false assumption among some people that the average struggling student is just going through a rite of passage, so going without enough food to eat is not a big deal,” Walker said.  “But it is a big deal for certain subgroups within the student community.”

Details are still being fine-tuned, but once the pantry opens, it will be based out of The Center at 819 S. Cathedral Place. Walker said the Baptist Campus Ministry has agreed to provide space for the food stores.

“(The pantry) acts much like a food pantry for the homeless but is reserved for college students,” Deekins said.

According to a 2011 USDA study, 9.2 percent of households in Virginia are food insecure, the department’s accepted term for a lack of consistent access to adequate food.  While childhood food assistance and community kitchens for the homeless are highly publicized solutions to the problem, assistance for students often goes unmentioned, in spite of rising costs of tuition and housing.

“Because there is very little data on the number of students at VCU that struggle with food insecurity, it’s a little difficult to convince the community that there is a legitimate need for a student food pantry,” Walker said.

A recent MyVCU poll asked students if they had gone without food during their time at VCU because they lacked money.  Fifty-seven percent answered yes to this question, and 15 percent answered no but said it applied to somebody they know.

The Monroe Park Campus SGA Student Life Committee and SGA-MCV Philanthropy have both agreed to support the pantry with food drives.  The VCU Catholic Campus Ministry, in addition to the Baptist and Episcopal Student Ministries will also hold their own food drives to stock the shelves.

“Each will have food drives that they will advertise at some point during the semester,” Walker said.

University Counseling Services, the Wellness Resource Center and VCU Student Health are  handling the advertising for the pantry because these locations are usually the first to come into contact with students who struggle with food insecurity, Walker said.

“This is really a collaborative effort; many people are working together to make it real,” Walker said.

To determine which food needs to be kept in stock, the new effort will utilize a pantry model obtained from FeedMore, the Richmond community organization which encompasses the Meals on Wheels, Central Virginia Food Bank and Community Kitchen programs.

The group is also actively searching for a dietician to formulate a menu to help students understand nutritional needs and know what kind of meals they can make from items in the pantry.

Walker said he has been impressed by the efforts VCU and students have already made toward the project.

“The willingness of VCU students … to commit themselves to addressing food insecurity among VCU students inspires me and my colleagues.”


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