The return of VCU’s new student-run, student-oriented food pantry has the community excited, as more students and businesses come forward to support VCU’s new program.
Ram Pantry, the less than year old food pantry which started this January, re-opened on Wednesday this week. On its first day back, the pantry served approximately 100 VCU students considered “food insecure” a week’s supply worth of food and basic necessities for free.
Starting this semester, the pantry will offer students fresh produce and toiletries in addition to the canned and boxed foods donated from local businesses and charity food drives.
The addition of new offerings from the pantry are being contributed by Shalom Farms, Panera Bread and the VCU School of Dentistry, who recently partnered with Ram Pantry this summer.
Located on the third floor of The Center at 819 S. Cathedral Place, students with a valid VCU student ID can visit the pantry from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Wednesday to collect five canned or boxed foods, toiletries and any amount of fresh produce.
Taylor Thompson, VCU senior and Ram Pantry president said the idea for the pantry began when students and faculty advisors from student counseling found that food insecurity, a problem many students find to be atypical of the college experience, was an issue that needed to be addressed.
“Last year, [Ram Pantry] started going around and seeing what was in need on campus,” Thompson said.
In a survey taken by Ram Pantry organizers last Fall, 57 percent of students surveyed claimed to have gone without a sufficient amount of food because of a lack of money.
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.”
“We’re trying to tackle food insecurity; that’s our mission,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of students on campus who are in need. Even for students who might not be in long term need – you maybe in between jobs for a few weeks and don’t have money for groceries – we wanted to make something as simple as stocking people’s kitchens easy.”
Within months of organizing last Fall, the coordinators and volunteers from Ram Pantry found a partner in Food Lion, who contributed over $40,000 worth of food to in order to start the pantry.
One of the program’s faculty advisors,Terrence Walker says the pantry came together as a decision to try and concentrate the efforts of various charitable organizations looking to feed those in need. On-campus organizations such as greek life, student faith ministries, student government and outside charities have all been taking part in the program.
“We had a lot of faculty and staff from Student Counseling Services and the Wellness Resource Center coming into contact with students who were food insecure,” Walker said.
To date, Ram Pantry has collected over 8,000 pounds of food from just Food Lion alone.
Volunteers from the organization are planning to start accounting for what has and is being collected by associated food drives and donated by new business partners in hopes of potentially becoming accredited as a 501 3c non-profit organization, according to Thompson.
“It’s something we’re working towards for the Spring semester,” Thompson said. “It’ll solidify funding so we don’t have to worry where the food is coming from, but we have to start measuring what we have and be able to put things into statistics.”
Seventy students with Ram Pantry are returning to volunteer with the charity this semester. During the fall SOVO fair, over 117 students signed up to become part of the organization and participate in volunteer training. Thompson says Ram Pantry is aiming to have at least 150 volunteers with the organization this semester.
“I’m planning to get into the medical field, so I’m into helping people,” said VCU sophomore and chemistry major, Deidre Miller, a second semester volunteer with Ram Pantry “I’m not a big outdoors person, or pet person, but I love people. It’s a good environment and the people who come in are nice.”
Thompson says the organization is also looking to secure more contributions from local grocers and businesses this semester, including Martins, Kroger and Elwood Thompson.
In addition to seeking help from local businesses, Walker says mutual support from community charities will also make sure that Ram Pantry stays sustainable throughout the coming months as interest and notoriety in the program increases.
Surplus food and goods which do not get picked up by patrons when the pantry is open gets donated to the Central Virginia Food Bank, according to Walker.
“We do expect the numbers to continue to grow,” Walker said. “There’s always a need for people to volunteer and run the pantry, as well as conduct food drives in order to stay sustainable. We don’t want to have to close this semester or the next because there’s no food to give out.”
To learn more about food insecurity, the Ram Pantry, or if you’re interested in volunteering, please contact [email protected]