Helping college students with food insecurity

By Kasey Adrian/El Inde

Located under the Student Union at the University of Arizona, is a room where students and faculty can come and retrieve food they may not be able to afford. It’s called the Campus Pantry, a program that guides students and faculty who lack food because they have little money.

One in every three students at the University of Arizona experiences food insecurity during their academic career, meaning that they go to bed hungry, or get to eat just one meal a day. 

Bridgette Nobbe, a Wisconsin native, is the only full-time employee at Campus Pantry. For the past two years, she has handles the Pantry’s events, drives and the donations. After coming to Arizona to get a Master’s in Higher Education, Nobbe began working at the Campus Pantry as a graduate assistant for 20 hours a week. 

On any single day, Nobbe is busy contacting students, donators and organizations to make sure the drives run smoothly for individuals receiving food. It’s hard work, but her passion for the Pantry grows everyday, knowing she’s helping her community.

“When I was the graduate assistant, I developed a love for the mission the Campus Pantry has,” Nobbe said. “I enjoyed seeing students work full-time to help their community.”

To receive items from the program, an individual needs to have a CatCard, yet the program will not turn a person away. Even though the program is student-run, Nobbe oversees the seven students who are in charge of food events and benefit dinners.

The program started in 2012 in the El Portal Residence Hall, after staff members became aware of the fact that some students were lacking food. So they started storing food items like cereal and ramen noodles in a small closet to give to students in need.

When Campus Pantry received help from other programs at the UA, they discarded their nonprofit status and went under the UA foundation.

Their first two years of operation were small, only receiving 30 students a week. By 2017, the program joined the Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA) as well as the UA Foundation.

Each week, Campus Pantry provides food items for 1,000 individuals; about a quarter of all users are international students and 39% of users have received the Pell Grant.

Freshman students are the most common users who rely on the program. Most of them find out about the Campus Pantry through word of mouth. “I think that’s because of how much stigma there is around food insecurity,” Nobbe said.

This is the reason why volunteer students rarely see a student visit the pantry their first time by themselves. They often go to the pantry with someone they know well. However, they tend to see people return alone for the second visit.

To become a volunteer for the Pantry, an individual needs to go through orientation to learn all the aspects of food insecurity and how Campus Pantry works — from distribution to operations. 

“No matter how much marketing we do, it sometimes doesn’t go that far for students,” Nobbe said.

Hannah Sokol is currently a senior at the UA and a former Peer Mentor for Project Focus, a transition program for 18-to-21 year-olds with physical and mental disabilities. Sokol worked with her friend, Nico Tax, to complete his weekly 10-hour internship at Campus Pantry.

Project Focus helps Campus Pantry bring in more volunteers. Tax would go to Campus Pantry for an hour to two a day due to his behavioral problems but would spend 10 hours a week volunteering for the program. Nico was an operations volunteer, he would sort the donations given to the pantry for users to choose from.

“I think it’s admirable that the university is trying to give an equal opportunity for students and faculty, especially because UA is located in Tucson which is a low-income area where some students are from the community,” Sokol said.

Food availability may not seem to have that much to do with education. But Nobbe explained how it works: If someone isn’t eating, they’re getting sick more often, and they’re not able to focus as well, which affects their education. She enjoys being a part of a program that recognizes students wellbeing as much as it supports programs for tutoring.

“You could have all the tutoring in the world but if it comes down to students not eating and they’re sick all the time, nothing will improve,” Nobbe said.

Even though classes have been moved to all online due to the coronavirus, students and faculty can still receive food from the Campus Pantry. Their new hours are Tuesdays 2p.m. to 4p.m., Wednesdays and Fridays 11 p.m. to 1 p.m.

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