Student pantry stockpiling for January launch

The students in Johnson Hall are competing with the other dorms in a donation contest to benefit the Student Food Pantry, which plans to open when students return from winter break.

Ali Jones
Contributing Writer

The next time you run out of swipes or money, do not panic. VCU’s first student pantry will be up and running next semester to feed students short on swipes or in need of money for food.

The dorms on the Monroe Park and Medical campuses are hosting a canned food drive and a competition between dorms that ends Nov. 30. The canned food donations go to the VCU Student Food Pantry, a new operation opening in January of 2014.

Holly Whitt, a student and the volunteer liaison for the pantry, said it will service students with financial problems.

“Staff members within the Division of Student Affairs noticed that there were students who went without food because they did not have money,” Whitt said in an email. “VCU students who need food are usually referred to food pantries in Central Virginia. Having a VCU Student Food pantry, on or within walking distance of Monroe Park Campus seemed like an obvious solution to food insecurity among VCU students.”

Any student in need is welcome, whether a dining plan is unaffordable or if the plan simply ran out, said Terrence Walker, administrative assistant of University Counseling Services.

“The food pantry is set up for emergencies; there will not be a limit on how often a student can use the food pantry. We will not turn students away,” Walker said. “However, we will make every effort to refer students who have long-term needs to the appropriate agencies.”

The pantry is part of a partnership among several different groups and organizations including  the Division of Student Affairs, the Muslim Student Association, VCU Baptist Ministries and the Wellness Resource Center.

“The partnerships were formed because we wanted the entire VCU community to play a role in addressing hunger among VCU students. We have worked to make connections and build relationships with a diverse group of partners from inside and outside of the campus community,” Whitt said.

In a MyVCU poll taken in late September of this year, 57 percent of the 3,236 VCU students who responded said they have gone without food because of a lack of money. This corresponds with what the pantry referred to as “food insecurity.”

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as having ‘limited or uncertain access to nutritious, safe foods necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle.’ The USDA notes that ‘households that experience food insecurity have reduced quality or variety of meals and may have irregular food.’

When the VCU Student Food Pantry opens in January, the only requirement needed for access is a valid VCU ID, Walker said.

Liz Swilley, volunteer coordinator, said she recommends bringing a voucher as well.

“Preferably a referral voucher from either the Wellness Resource Center or Student Health Services,” Swilley said. “This voucher is used for data collection, so we can have a better idea of how students are hearing about the VCU Student Food Pantry and how many students we’re serving each semester.”

The pantry will be open Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. A visit gets you a bag of food, as well as a menu provided by Dr. Sakita Sistrun of the VCU Medical Center.

“Students will be given a bag of food containing a week’s supply of non-perishable goods, a menu of meal ideas which would provide a balanced diet and a newsletter containing smart shopping tactics and coupons for local grocery stores,”  Swilley said.

The pantry will also provide “culturally appropriate” foods. These are food items that are acceptable for different cultures and religions.

“Culturally appropriate is wording for ‘we will strive to provide dietary options for various religious restrictions,’” Swilley said. “This means we will be providing weekly supply bags in both Halal, Kosher and vegetarian varieties, and are looking into the possibility of vegan and gluten-free bags as well.”

Though organizers have established the pantry’s hours and policies, Walker said there are possible changes in store.

“Our hours of operation will change to accommodate student demand for the food pantry throughout the semester,” Walker said. “We could also move towards using an online registration form so that students can order items from the food pantry when we are not open. Using an online registration form could also help to reduce any stigma that is associated with visiting a food pantry.”

Though the pantry received its initial funding from VCU, Swilley also said private donations from the dorm food drive are imperative for the pantry’s success.

“Hopefully this will happen at least once a year if not once a semester,” Swilley said. “We will continue to organize food drives while the pantry is open, as we will need a constant food supply to meet student need.”

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