Category: ‘Origins’ Series

Origins: UNLV

Our pantry’s story truly starts with the nation’s Great Recession. Illegal and immoral actions on the part of our largest financial institutions caused a recession of wages, widespread unemployment and the loss of a large swath of homes. 2007-2010 saw statewide spending cuts for education with a 30% reduction in state funding for UNLV. We stopped hiring, encouraged retirements, bought out contracts, and cut department budgets and staffing. Students felt the impact of these actions throughout the campus. Departing professors calledin their book loans, administrative professionals kept hawk-like awareness of every ream of printer paper, H.R. suddenly had all kinds of free time for trashcan basketball when not processing adjunct faculty applications. All of this took place before academics were directly cut. In 2011-2012 whole departments were lost, budget cuts to individual departments ranged from 5 to 7 figures. My department alone, Community Health Sciences, cut about 180k, while our College of Liberal Arts cut about 1.2 million. Faculty staffing on campus was cut by between 1/3 to 1/2. Entire programs were eliminated such as Sports Ed Leadership (BS in Physical Education), Recreation and Sports Management, Informatics, Urban Horticulture and others. The dean of the business school resigned in 2012 directly citing our financial situation. Since the implementation of cuts, classified/professional staff endured the following; loss of longevity pay, the implementation of furloughs, the loss of step increases (Currently returning but not every staff member until summer 2015.), a 5% pay cut with (2.5% returned), a restructuring of healthcare benefits and rise in insurance premiums. Currently there are reports of a reduction in contributions to retirement and the elimination of vision as a healthcare benefit. As the semesters chugged along, among the classified/professional staff and faculty, it was not out of place at the time to say that morale had sunk campus-wide.

For students, costs were rising, choices were shrinking, and some claimed that quality lessened. Between 2002-2012 student tuition was increased 142%. Between 2007 and 2011 it was raised 73% and 13% in 2011 alone. The cost of attendance for residents went from $2,370 in 2002 to $5,740 in 2012. Recently an undergraduate tuition increase of 17% over the next 4 years was approved. Graduate students are also facing a 4% increase. A consistent hardship for some students was that of our graduate assistantships. Current compensation pays less than half of the national average. A current UNLV GA is $1,300 with a take home of $1,150 a month. This does include a reduction in tuition of around 60% and student health insurance. Campus GA contracts are only 9 months in duration so not only is the employment compensation roughly 1/2 that of the national average of $23,000/year, students who cannot get the additional summer extension must find other work, often disrupting their studies and taking them away from the academic environment some may prefer. During my undergraduate years I lived with a woman attending the University of Washington and she earned $22,000/year as a doctoral student researcher. That was 15 years ago. Another difficulty for students drawing an income from campus is healthcare. The student health insurance plan is unaffordable to use if one needs healthcare off campus. The deductible cost for services that cannot be handled by the on-campus clinic increased from $1,650 for the 2013/14 school year to $3,750 the following year, a 227% increase. Another concern was that campus administration is not informed of the rates until the insurance booklets arrive. If a graduate student does not have outside income and has medical conditions requiring off-campus medical care, they must resort to choosing what major costs can be done without. After rent and electricity these are commonly food and healthcare. While not agreeing with every aspect, the relationship between student loans and tuition costs is covered well by Matt Taibbi in the article “Ripping Off Young America: The College-Loan Scandal”.

While the healthcare situation has undergone changes that allow graduates assistants to qualify for Medicaid based on the GA compensation rate, the other large shift has been in student demographics. It is important to realize that as national unemployment numbers soared, college enrollment numbers did as well. Many of those first time and returning students were not simply taking an education vacation; they turned to education to make themselves better. Enrollment decisions based on financial aid could arguably be an influence for a portion of those students who would have not otherwise decided to expand their academic study. Financial aid could be used as a makeshift economic safety net.

These mentioned circumstances and others only strengthen the rationale for increasing student services on campus beyond that of financial aid, in a more direct and interactive way to help students move toward graduation. This is paramount for our institution as our funding formula is now based on graduation rates and not simply on enrollment numbers.

In November 2010, Dr. Casas of our History Department worked with others in administration, H.R., the Graduate Association, and a few mature students to hold the first food drive and distribution of 1,700 items. 41 staff and students picked up non-perishables. According to a short survey filled out by the majority of the clients, they have families: the food drive provided food for at least 137 individuals. The majority of individuals who availed themselves of the food bank were classified personnel with families, which suggested that some employees at UNLV were finding it difficult to provide sufficiently for their families.

Throughout spring and summer 2011, monthly food drives were maintained while efforts to secure a physical space took place. The start of the fall semester saw the opening of our first location. From the first pantry space until Jan 2014, food was donated in campus bins, picked up from events, or purchased in person with donated funds from grocery stores. Large events took place a few times a year and bins were emptied weekly, but the majority of food was shopped for every other week. Directly across the street from the campus is a two-story commercial building. Our first space was quite limited; around 30′ by 10′, with a similar sized room in back. The back held the cans that the front room could not hold and was used for storage and to restock the supply of cans. All non-canned food was put out. The president of the pantry during fall 2011 was in his final semester of his degree program. He maintained pantry hours with help from his girlfriend and me, the pantry’s first full time volunteer and second president. During winter 2012, the pantry re-located across the hallway into the community’s old Kinkos. Remember Kinkos? The space was enormous. It was also without a functioning HVAC system, overhead lighting, a waterproof roof, and had elevator access that reeked of used cooking oil and urine. After grabbing some oil lamps and moving the shelves between the falling ceiling tiles we got to work trying to fill the place up. A vast array of student orgs came together to fill pallets of food for us to distribute. We worked on setting up payroll deductions, our non-profit status with the help of a law school faculty member, and lobbying the undergraduate student council for some funding. The summer saw temperatures climb to around 104 inside the pantry. I sat outside most of those days in hopes of an occasional breeze to radiate my water and sweat soaked bandana draped around my neck. From what I read 106 was the breaking point at which I would have had to start throwing items away. We did eventually obtain 2 portable A/C units that brought it down to around 92, much better. On Sept 11th of that year the campus saw flooding due to poor infrastructure design both on and off campus. The pantry was on the second floor and escaped any loss beyond that of wet floors. Those on the first floor were entirely wipedout since they sat below street level. A half dozen drain pipes with finger sized grate-holes covering them were quickly blocked by various debris and tiny landscape rocks that make up a lot of our campus grounds.

During the winter of 2012 we moved again, this time onto campus. Although the pantry was not universally revered as a valued campus asset, consistent backing from the then president and strong support from the Provost and the office of academic space made this possible. The total area was smaller and broken up into 4 standard sized office spaces. While the amenities were luxurious in comparison, the separation came with its own issues related to client proximity and monitoring. Two are used as distribution rooms, one for storage, and the other as an office. Eventually the office came to be used for distribution as well. A monumental contribution was made through silent auction fundraising events at clubs on the strip put on by our hotel marketing students during the 2012 & 2013 summers. During 2013, an effort was made to clarify a non-discrimination policy of the local food bank. As we understood it, they would not partner with organizations that imposed association rules as to who they allowed to be clients. Since our pantry was only open to campus members we did not pursue a partnership with the bank early on. The latter end of the year saw progress on that front and by the start of the spring 2014 semester we were fully partnered. Since then we have been able to purchase a greater quantity of food with the resources we have. Our offerings have expanded to include various produce items and occasionally, boxes of hygiene items, saving many additional hundreds of dollars for ourclients. During summer 2014, University officials from around the country toured the campus and held discussions regarding our institution’s Tier 1 status efforts. Since, the pantry has been cast in a new light and reflects a positive component assisting the campus community. Also during that summer, I trained 2 undergraduate students to take my place. Since fall, they have done excellent work and the three of us have successfully lobbied for additional income streams to the pantry and the passage of the undergraduate emergency retention grant. We are currently in discussions to bring in refrigerators and/or freezers that will allow us to expand our offerings to bring our clients closer to meals made from whole foods. As a result of these efforts, from the pantry’s opening through summer 2014 the pantry has served over 1,900 clients who have in turn fed over 5,000. Our client make-up for the first 2 years held very steady at 2/3 staff and 1/3 students. But from fall 2013 to summer 2014 students have increased slightly to students being 38.3% and staff representing 61.7%. Since the partnership with the local food bank in January 2014 through August, we have placed 34 orders and distributed 22,224 lbs of food, costing $4,435. Anecdotal review of this school year’s client intake forms show that our mean weekly service rates may increase from about 33 to over 40.

Our distribution model from the start has been that of free choice, or first come first serve, and anonymity has been a primary concern. We do not check any form of association by our clients. As a result of our model, we have had client-lines from the early days. The lines vary from week to week but it appears that the mean number waiting has increased from around 5-10 to 15-20, with 80-90% of that day’s clients coming and waiting for us to open.

If anyone has any questions about the content of this story or anything else pantry related please let me know. I am specifically interested in hearing about distribution models and how to refine practices while maintaining equal fairness to all clients. I am also interested in discussing how to handle client complaints about other clients’ taking-behaviors under a free choice model. If anyone has managed to wrangle a graduate assistantship out of running the pantry I would like to know that as well. Please allow me some time to reply.

Joseph Nickelson

Originally published by Clare Cady June 2, 2015

Origins: Norwalk Community College

The most common question we get from campuses looking to start up a pantry is “how did YOU get started?” We will be posting the ‘Origins’ series to share the tales of our member schools in their work supporting food insecure students.

Rachael Lederman DiPietro, CT Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA, Co-founder, Norwalk Community College

I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. That’s the best way to start off talking about the journey I’ve been on as the Connecticut Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA at Norwalk Community College tasked with starting a food pantry. I myself graduated from Norwalk Community College (NCC) in 2012, and so upon completing my Bachelor’s degree this past summer at Trinity College in Hartford, CT I felt a duty and obligation to be of service to the place that gave me a second chance at life. At NCC I learned about how to take initiative, how to advocate for myself, and the connection between engagement and academic success. So I owed them.

I started my VISTA service in July and truth be told, I knew non-academic barriers stood in the way of college persistence and success, both from my own experience and watching my classmates struggle, but I didn’t necessarily see the connection with food insecurity. That is until I started to google however. From approximately July to September I sat at my desk trying to absorb every piece of information (and there isn’t much out there) on food insecurity and college campuses. I was fortunate to have another VISTA in my cohort who had worked on a food pantry the previous year at another college campus in Connecticut. Erin gave me a tour of how the Three Rivers Community College food pantry worked, shared all the forms they used with me, and even graciously gave me the proposal they had used to college management to get approval on the project.

So that’s what I did from July until late September. I read. And then I read some more. There is really no data on food insecurity on our college campus and so I figured out ways to piece it together. I looked at data for participation and eligibility for free/reduced price breakfast and lunch programs for our feeder K-12 schools. Based on this data which showed around 48% of students were eligible for these programs it’s easy to see how these students lose this safety net upon graduating and their families are faced with expenses they have not previously incurred.

I then researched food insecurity as a general issue in our area. NCC is in Fairfield County, CT which is perceived to be incredibly wealthy. However, one in ten families in Fairfield County struggles with food insecurity, leaving them unsure where their next meal is coming from (FCCF, 2013). Almost one in five residents in Fairfield County cities live in poverty. Nationally, the average cost of a meal is $2.52, but this cost is $3.17 in Fairfield County. “Half of the food insecure people in Fairfield County do not qualify for federal aid” (Feeding America, Map the Meal Gap, 2011). Why does this matter? Because the discrepancy between the federal poverty threshold and the high cost of living in the area around NCC results in an unserved food insecure population.

All of this research, on the need for this on our campus was then tied to the growing research on food insecurity amongst college students. If you have not yet checked out Maya Maroto’s writings on the way in which the rates of food insecure community college students exceed the national average and that food insecurity amongst this population has a negative effect on student GPA, levels of energy, and concentration- DO IT! This all impacts ones persistence, retention, and academic success. Addressing food insecurity at NCC is directly related to our educational mission.

Space is one of the most political and precious commodities on campus and so the hardest part of the process was securing a space for the pantry. To do so we -myself, the Coordinator of Service Learning Courtney Anstett who is a co-founder of the pantry, and the Director of Adult Learning Kristina Testa-Buzzee under whom I serve- really had to justify the need for a pantry on campus. Knowing this was a growing movement on college campuses thanks to the network of CUFBA, armed with the facts I brought a proposal to the management of the college. The proposal was approved and then the fun really began.

Four years ago as a student at NCC I started an event called “Day of Thanks” (DOT). The idea behind this event was that rather than the 40 something clubs on campus all doing separate clothing/food/toiletry/toy drives it would be infinitely more impactful if we all worked together. A month long collection drive with all clubs participating in DOT was undertaken and culminated with a day of service and sorting. That first year almost 100 students helped us make PB&J sandwiches, sort through clothing, toys, and food to donate to local charities, and made fleece blankets for a shelter.

Building off DOT, which was now an annual event in its fourth year, we had a food focused collection drive. 2014’s Hunger Games Edition of DOT was a competition between 23 “districts” (made up of different departments and clubs on campus) to see who could collect the most non-perishable food items. Over 4,000 items were collected through the drive with our Medical Assistant Club winning the competition with a whopping 756 items. This event was held on November 13th and with the pantry not opening until late January, we gave away all holiday related items, along with items that would soon expire to local pantries. Everything else was held onto and this left us with a really strong start to the NCC Food Pantry.

The time between November 13th and our move-in date the third week of January was spent trying to figure out where to store everything in the meantime, how to advertise the service, what hours we should be open, how best to do intake and just generally what I had gotten myself into!

After having to reschedule several times due to snow the NCC food pantry had a ribbon cutting ceremony on February 11th, 2015. We’ve technically been open since February 3rd and in our first 11 days we have served 24 students.

Every day we are figuring it out a bit more and readjusting as needed. We still have a ton more work to do to get the word out and build a sustainability plan. However so far our volunteers have been amazing, our faculty and staff continue to stop by and ask us what we need, and our students are not only grateful, but truly feel like the school actually cares.


Quick hits of things that we’ve found to work (in our very humble and new opinion):

1)      Bi-monthly emails to faculty/staff asking for a specific donation- this week we requested oatmeal and cereal… because breakfast is the most important meal of the day

2)      We have Service Learning at NCC and the pantry is now listed as one of the sites where students can do service learning hours

3)      All of our forms (waiver, intake, recommendations) are through Google forms so no manual data entry has to occur


Originally published by Clare Cady March 3, 2015

Origins: Stony Brook University

The most common question we get from campuses looking to start up a pantry is “how did YOU get started?” We will be posting the ‘Origins’ series to share the tales of our member schools in their work supporting food insecure students.

How One Pantry Got Its Start

By Casey McGloin, MPH, Co-founder, Stony Brook University Food Pantry

As with other public universities, the food insecurity issue on Stony Brook’s campus was discovered in small doses by the faculty, staff, and students who were compassionate enough to notice the struggles of their colleagues and peers. A faculty member brought granola bars into class and marveled at how quickly they disappeared. A staff member received a call from a student who was wondering what to do when her meal plan ran out. A student asked a friend to use the friend’s meal card so that he could eat dinner that night. A staff member noticed that a co-worker was struggling financially. Members of the Stony Brook community  were having food insecurity interactions. A small series of conversations began, and they grew into larger series of conversations.

In 2011, an NBC story with Brian Williams highlighted efforts by some college campuses to establish food pantries in order to address food insecurity among students. In 2012, a Chronicle of Higher Education article did the same. These two stories, combined with the conversations in which we took part, led two people on opposite sides of our campus, myself and my co-founder Beth McGuire-Fredericks, to explore the idea of creating a food pantry at Stony Brook. We separately discussed the issue and the potential solution with groups of students and administrators, found out about one another, and combined efforts. I include this detail because it is evidence of the grassroots nature of campus food pantry establishment.

Over and over again, the groups of students and administrators with whom we met confirmed the need for services to address food insecurity on campus. We took a second look at the commonly accepted phenomenon of the “poor college student.” Since few data are available on the prevalence of food insecurity among college students, we combined comments from these meetings with statistics about our Pell-eligible student population  and data from an informal survey we distributed during a campus event to justifiy creating a campus food pantry at Stony Brook. We formed a committee of students and staff and set to work to figure out how the pantry should operate. We contacted the directors of other campus pantries, consulted with a nutritionist to determine the best foods to keep on our shelves (as we wanted to create a healthy food pantry), talked to administrators about space, planned food drives, and finalized many other details.

The most challenging tasks were finding a space for the pantry, and coming to terms with the fact that not everything would turn out as we hoped. By speaking with various administrators, we eventually found an underutilized space on campus we were permitted to re-purpose to house the pantry. As for things not turning out as planned, after our pantry’s opening day we realized our carefully planned intake system was inefficient and redesigned most of it over the course of a week to better suit the reality of our particular food-insecure population. We had planned to open a campus bank account before opening day, giving us the ability to accept tax-deductible monetary donations; however, we didn’t achieve that milestone until a year and a half later. For our first year and a half, we relied on a combination of food drives, grocery store gift card donations, and a small budget from a larger charitable donation campaign on campus to stock our shelves with healthy foods. Since we opened our doors in September 2013, we’ve continuously adapted to challenges as they arose.

The SBU Food Pantry has provided almost 2,000 bags of food to our pantry guests to date. At the start of our second spring semester in operation, we are still learning. So far our second year has had many similarities and many differences from our first year, which leads me to believe we will always be learning. Despite the youth of our establishment, we’ve been contacted for advice by other universities/colleges exploring the campus pantry possibility for themselves, and we’ve been contacted by a multitude of news organizations to report on the rapid growth of campus food pantries. The conversation is growing.

Want to share your campus’ ‘Origins’ story? Email us at – put “Origins: for Clare” in the subject line.

Originally published by Clare Cady February 3, 2015