One year later: Little Ram Pantry program partners with food bank

Little Ram Pantry program is a pilot program that extended the university’s food pantries to satellite locations around campus, launched into operation on Oct. 8. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Selna Shi, Contributing Writer

The Little Ram Pantry program recently partnered with Feed More, a Central Virginia Food bank, to provide food in the pantries more economically, according to environmental studies professor John Jones. 

Jones launched the Little Ram Pantry a year ago after being inspired by food pantries in Church Hill, he said.

Partnership with Feed More can help the pantry provide more food for both the MCV and Monroe Park campus pantries, according to Jones. 

The pilot project is funded through May 2023; the research team will then present their findings to VCU administrators.

“Hopefully the administrators will take over the project and find someone who can help with the pantry full time,” Jones said.

Lisa Mathews-Ailsworth, assistant director for Student Support at the Dean of Students Office and main Ram Pantry staff, spends a third of her time helping to load the pantries. 

“The use of the main pantry has been pretty consistent, even after the launch of Little Ram Pantry,” Mathews-Ailsworth said. “Students don’t quite understand the program and sometimes there are no desirable foods that students want.”

There were an estimated 15,000 visits to the main pantry last year, according to Mathews-Ailsworth.

“I hope more students use the pantries,” Mathews-Ailsworth said. “There were around 2,000 interactions with the Little Ram pantries last year, but our surveys showed that there are around 10,000 students on campus that experience food insecurity.” 

The main pantry is located in the University Student Commons in Room 121. All locations allow people to put hygiene or menstrual items in the pantries.

“Having menstrual products was always my original intention. The pink tax is real,” Jones said.

Menstrual products are provided based on donations, according to Mathews-Ailsworth. Other products like meat are also provided based on donations.

The pantries were opened 2,200 times last school year. However, it is likely an underestimate, according to Jones.

“Sometimes censors and the internet are often down, or if the cords are unplugged, the pantry doesn’t record if that happens,” Jones said.

Students in the da Vinci program are teaming with VCU engineering students in a capstone class to help design a better and more permanent pantry box.

The program expanded its locations to James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin on MCV campus last spring. The expansion was done after faculty members from MCV asked Jones if the program can reach the campus as well, according to a previous Commonwealth Times article.

Jackie Carter, student volunteer for MCV pantries, said the program is still trying to establish a foundation for the campus. 

“There’s a difference in layout of MCV versus Monroe Park, and the way that programs are advertised to students is also quite different,” Carter said. 

Recent research revealed that 35% of VCU students experience food insecurity, which is around 10,000 students on Monroe Park Campus, according to Youngmi Kim, VCU School of Social Work professor. 

VCU faculty and students are welcome to participate in the Ram Pantry surplus program, which allows faculties and students to donate or receive surplus breads and produce items.

The surplus program aims to reduce food waste and individuals do not need to experience food insecurity in order to participate, according to Mathews-Ailsworth.

The Little Ram Pantry is in search of students to be in a paid focus group for a study on how to improve the pantry, according to Jones. 

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