Campus Pantry combats student food insecurity

About 10,000 students on the University of Arizona campus are technically food insecure. (Photo by: Elena Gonzalez/Arizona Sonora News Service)

On Tuesday mornings at 11 a.m. third-year student Anisa Maani heads to the University of Arizona’s Student Union to get food.

But Maani does not head into the Union’s food court-style dining hall. She does not survey the ready-made pizzas keeping warm under lights at Papa John’s or patiently wait for waffle fries and nuggets at Chick-fil-A.

Maani heads down a staircase tucked away that leads to Campus Pantry—a market that gives students access to produce and pantry staples for free.

“I don’t have to budget 10 persecnt of my income anymore,” Maani said.

Before Campus Pantry, Maani would struggle to stretch her dollars on food, rent and tuition. As a full-time college student Maani would stress over making sure she always had food to cook.

In 2012, Campus Pantry co-founder Michelle Sun noticed students acting sluggish and weak while she was working in the residence halls. She realized this change in demeanor was a result of lack of food these students were getting.

“They weren’t getting proper nutrition,” Sun said.

Sun teamed up with other graduate students to start Campus Pantry as a way to combat the food insecurity she saw on campus.

Maani is not the only college student who has struggled to afford a good, healthy meal in college.

Food insecurity can be defined in many ways. The USDA defines it as “a lack of consistent access to

Campus Pantry volunteer, Megann Donahue, does a stock check of pantry items before Campus Pantry opens. (Photo by: Elena Gonzalez/Arizona Sonora News Service)

enough food for an active, healthy life.” But food insecurity can also be the uncertainty of knowing where and when a person’s next meal will come from.

According to a 2016 study conducted by Students Against Hunger, 48 percent of students reported feeling food insecure some time during the 30 days prior to the study.

Students are vulnerable to food insecurity for different reasons. For students like Maani, food is only one of the many college expenses she has to budget for—on top of tuition, rent and school supplies.

In 2015, a Campus Climate survey estimated that 30 percent of University of Arizona undergraduates were food insecure.

“We see all cultures, a lot of international students and we have freshman to seniors,” said Kelly Clarken, Executive Director of Campus Pantry.

Food insecurity affects a diverse group of students. Particularly, Maani notices a lot of international students who use the service. She said it is because international students are not allowed to get jobs without a working visa.

Executive Director of Campus Pantry, Kelly Clarken, prepares volunteers before opening Campus Pantry to students. (Photo by: Elena Gonzalez/Arizona Sonora News Service)

Clarken said any student could face food insecurity at some point during their time in college even if only temporarily.

About 10,000 students on campus are technically food insecure, Clarken said. But because of a stigma that exists around food insecurity, most of those students do not want to use the Pantry.

Keeping the identity of students using the pantry confidential has always been a priority to the program, Sun said. By doing so, students can go to the pantry and not feel embarrassed for using the resource.

“Students wave their CatCard at check-in,” Sun said. No emails or phone numbers are taken down for any student.

Educating students about food insecurity on college campuses is another way to fight the stigma, Clarken said. She wants to educate students about Campus Pantry and make sure they know it is okay to need the assistance.

“You often hear ‘Oh “I’m a college student living off of ramen,’ but what they don’t realize is that there are students who actually do that,” Clarken said.

UA Campus Pantry is open every Tuesday (5-7p.m.) and Friday (11a.m.-1p.m.) during the academic year. For more information visit the Campus Pantry website or email uofacampuspantry@gmail.com.

Elena Gonzalez is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at elenagonzalez14@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.

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