By Jessica Luton
Room 208 in ’s Memorial Hall probably looks like just another storage closet. But for nearly 100 University students and faculty, what lies behind that door is hope.
The UGA Student Food Pantry, open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, has been helping feed hungry people on campus since early September. All it takes to access the service is a UGA identification card.
It’s no secret that some Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported that 14.5 percent of U.S. households experienced food insecurity at some point during 2010.
No agency tracks the prevalence of food insecurity among college students. The food pantry’s organizers just believed the project was needed.
Their instincts were quickly confirmed. Within its first six days of operation, the student-run pantry helped 77 people by providing staples such as canned vegetables, fruit cups, pasta, baking mix and protein such as canned tuna or chicken, said advertising senior Abbey Warren, lead organizer for the pantry.
The project had been in the works for over a year, with 20 student organizations teaming up to organize, staff and stock the pantry. They felt that keeping quiet about their role was important to establish a discreet, dignified atmosphere for those who need help.
Because financial information is closely held by the university, and because people are reluctant to admit they can’t afford food, Warren and her colleagues acted on the assumption that need existed. But they had no real data.
From day one, Warren had her beliefs confirmed. An international student came to the pantry, deeply worried that he might go hungry the next week.
“When he asked if we’d turn him away if he kept coming back, I told him, ‘We'll never turn you away.’ It just amazed me because this is somebody that could be sitting in my classroom,” said Warren, who's from Marietta. “Students often suffer silently.”
In getting the project up and running, student organizers turned to Alan Campbell, UGA assistant vice president for student services. They wanted his input about the need for a campus food pantry.
“I think there’s a misperception among a number of people that college students are relatively affluent,” said Campbell. “But many of our students are stressed to be here.”
Some students have merely forgotten their wallet for the day or mismanaged money at the end of the month, but that doesn’t lessen the positive aspects for such a service, said Warren.
“If nine people come and only one person really needs it, it’s worth it,” she said.
For students on tight budgets, saving money by not buying food or buying cheap food with very little nutritional value is a reality, she said. It’s easy to skimp on food or simply to buy ramen, but that’s not a good idea because it doesn’t fuel the body properly.
Campbell echoed Warren’s sentiments on the importance of meeting daily food needs.
“This is sort of one of those invisible issues in our community,” he said. “You can’t see hunger. But if you’re hungry, you can experience fatigue and have difficulty concentrating, which is a significant factor in student success.”
It all comes down to contributing to the success and well-being of students and faculty on the UGA campus.
“It’s just Dawgs helping Dawgs,” Warren said. “It's our own community that's suffering silently.”
Campbell said the students have structured the food pantry to provide a discreet way for those in need to seek help. The way the pantry is set up “protects the dignity of the individuals who take advantage of it.”
Tremendous support from the UGA community since the opening is a sign that the project has staying power, said Warren.
“Since it's opened we've gotten amazing backing from the UGA community,” said Warren. “We have a strong foundation so I think we're here to stay.”
Donations can be made out to UGA Student Food Pantry and mailed to 153 Tate Student Center, Athens, GA 30602. Additionally, those with questions about donations or accessing the food pantry can email firstname.lastname@example.org