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IU food pantries tackle student hunger

Dec. 1, 2016

In the next few weeks, students will begin the traditional pre-exam sweat, cramming for tests and putting the finishing touches on final projects in pursuit of the perfect grade.

But for a growing number of students, the biggest concern on their figurative plate will be what's on their literal plate. Food insecurity is increasingly on the minds of students and the IU campuses they attend, as discussed at the IU Board of Trustees meeting this week.

Crimson cupboard

IU student Dejania Evans, left, and Mercedes Jones at the 2015 opening of the Crimson Cupboard at IU Bloomington. | PHOTO BY CHRIS MEYER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

A panel of students, including IUPUI's Christina Geels, IU South Bend's Katelyn Jessie and IU Bloomington's Erika Wheeler, presented to the board's Student Relations Committee on Wednesday. The trio shared the need for food insecurity initiatives on their campuses and what steps have already been taken to address those needs.

According to Feeding America, the nation's largest network of food banks, almost 5 million of its 46 million clients attend a two- or four-year institution of higher education. And of those surveyed by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, more than half of all first-generation college students were food insecure, as were 57 percent of black or African-American students.

While the problem is not new, awareness of it has been gaining ground in the past few years. Food pantries at IU, many of them run by students, began cropping up on campuses across the state about five years ago. IUPUI's Paw's Pantry, serving students, faculty and staff, opened in 2013. Soon after, similar pantries began operating on IU's Bloomington, East, Kokomo and Southeast campuses.

IU Northwest and IU South Bend became the newest additions in the spring of 2016. Northwest's RedHawks Nest has already expanded and now opens its doors to faculty and staff as well as students.

The most established food bank at IU, Paw's Pantry distributed more than 30,000 food and hygiene items from July 2014 to June 2016. This fall, thanks to the Greening IUPUI grant received through the IUPUI Office of Sustainability, it was able to purchase a refrigerator and freezer and now provides fresh and frozen foods to its clients on a weekly basis. 

Regardless of their history, however, all pantries face the never-ending task of collecting donations through community partnerships, alumni associations and food drives sponsored by student organizations and university offices. During holiday seasons, many ramp up their efforts either with special holiday-related food drives or to simply stock their shelves over the upcoming winter break.

IU East, whose food pantry serves all clients, including traditional-age students, single parents and military veterans, provides special packages at holidays. The Pantry distributed 25 hams at Easter last year, as well as 50 meal boxes at Thanksgiving and 25 more at Christmas.

Last month, Paw's Pantry collected 1.64 tons of food as part of its Jam the Pantry drive. Nearly 2,000 items benefited 90 clients over the course of two days following the campaign.

Once donations are collected, pantries often have to make a second extra push to get the food into the hands of those who need it most. Each campus strives to make the process as anonymous as possible. They fear that a lack of anonymity could discourage students from making the most of available services.

"Food insecurity is something that many are afraid to talk about," said IU Northwest student Alexis Morales, who helps to run the RedHawks Nest with her sister Victoria. "Because of that, a stigma has formed in asking for help."

Paws pantry

Students drop off food at Paws Pantry at IUPUI. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IUPUI

Providing food pantry services aims to answer much more than just a question of hunger. Of students who reported being food insecure in the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness survey, nearly a third said their hunger or housing problems, which often accompany food insecurity, had an impact on their education, such as being unable to purchase a required textbook, and missing or dropping classes.

It does not take much imagination to see how combating hunger can improve overall student success. But it is not only those on the receiving end of these initiatives who benefit.

According to The Campus Kitchen at IUPUI, an organization that relies heavily on students to provide healthy meals to the Indianapolis community, nine out of 10 student volunteers said they are more likely to address food insecurity in their own communities after graduation. More than 90 percent of involved students also said their volunteerism has provided marketable job skills and that they feel more confident in their leadership abilities. 

See below for a list of how you can donate to one of IU's food pantries.

  • IU Bloomington, Crimson Cupboard: Visit the Crimson Cupboard website for complete donation information.
  • IUPUI, Paw's Pantry: For information about making a monetary donation or finding a drop-off location on campus, visit the Paw's Pantry website.
  • IU East, The Pantry: Donations can be delivered to the Center for Health Promotion in Hayes Hall Room 001 Monday through Friday. Cash or checks can be given directly to External Affairs/Gift Development Springwood Hall 103B or mailed to either the Center for Health Promotion or External Affairs/Gift Development; include account number 0320012961 or write "The Pantry" on the memo line of checks.
  • IU Kokomo, Cougar Cupboard: Contact Gabby Van Alstine at gvanalst@iuk.edu or Adam Smith at smith915@iuk.edu to make a donation.
  • IU Northwest, RedHawks Nest: Donations can be dropped off at the Office of Student Activities in Savannah Center Room 217. They also have an IU Credit Union account to accept monetary donations; checks can be made out to "RedHawks Nest." Email hawknest@iun.edu for more information.
  • IU South Bend, Titans Feeding Titans: Monetary donations can be made to Titans Feeding Titans through IU Foundation.
  • IU Southeast, Grenadier Grab N Go: Information can be found on the Grenadier Grab N Go website, which will include a "Donate Now" option in the near future.

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