Southeast Missouri State University will soon join the growing number of college campuses across the country taking action to help students who don’t have enough to eat.
The new Redhawk Food Pantry will be housed in the Textbook Rental area in the basement of Kent Library and will provide non-perishable food items, as well as necessities like shampoo, soap, and school supplies, to Southeast students and employees. Efforts are currently underway by various organizations to begin stocking the pantry with an on-campus food drive scheduled for Feb.13-March 3. Faculty, staff, student organizations and community agencies are invited to participate.
“About a year ago, we began to investigate stories of food insecurity among college students and how campuses were working to aid students in need,” said Dr. Debbie Below, vice president for enrollment management and student success, and dean of students at Southeast. “We learned that 20 percent of college students nationwide suffered from food insecurity. We also learned that for those students, hunger was a major impediment to student achievement.”
A recent student survey conducted by Southeast Student Government indicated that 15 percent of students had an inadequate food supply at least four times during the semester.
Bhanu Sehgal, a senior accounting major and chair of the University Affairs Committee of the Student Government Association, said students are supportive of having a pantry on campus and access to food supplies when there is an immediate need.
“With this initiative, we hope to assist students in need by supporting them in their times of financial difficulty or when they are on a tight budget,” he said. “We are working to focus on eliminating food insecurities on campus, so students get proper nutrition and have the essential energy to sustain them.”
Sehgal said students should focus on their academic goals and not on how or where they are going to be able to afford to eat.
“Implementing this food pantry to help bridge the gap for the collective of our students, at no cost to them, is an effort worth pursuing,” he said.
“We did not want any Southeast students to worry about where their next meals would come from,” she said. “We had to act.”
That’s when the Redhawk Food Pantry was born.
“We reached out to various University departments and student service organizations,” explained Dr. Bruce Skinner, assistant vice president for student success at Southeast, “trying to find the best solution for our students and our campus.”
“At first,” said Skinner, “we made inquiries asking ‘if” we could start a food pantry. The positive response was so overwhelming, the discussion quickly moved from ‘if’ we should start a pantry to ‘when’ we would start the pantry.”
The project could not have come together without the help of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, whose national philanthropic platform is “Feed America.”
Dr. Charles McAllister, vice provost and chapter advisor to the fraternity, said “Lambda Chi Alpha seeks to raise awareness of food scarcity and issues related to hunger, and has been interested in establishing a campus food pantry at Southeast. When the idea began to gain traction, it was natural for them to want to be involved.”
McAllister also played a large role in securing the funding necessary to begin the project. He developed a Funding for Results proposal that resulted in a three-year grant of nearly $15,000 that will cover the project’s initial start-up costs and limited operational expenses.
The program will be self-sufficient and operate at no cost to students. The pantry will be staffed by a student manager and student volunteers and with donations from faculty and staff, student organizations and community agencies. The location in Textbook Rental is ideal, organizers say, because existing shelving and furniture were already available, eliminating the need to buy fixtures in support of the pantry.
“We have the space, we have the staff, and we have the community working with us to make the project successful. Now we need to stock the shelves,” he said.
Skinner said the University hopes to have the Redhawk Food Pantry fully operational by fall 2017.
To achieve that goal, a food drive will be held Feb.13 through March 3. All members of the Southeast community are encouraged to drop off non-perishable food items in bins provided by Southeast’s Facilities Management. The bins will be placed at various locations across campus, including Texbook Rental, the University Center, the Student Recreation Center and the residence halls.
Items most needed include:
- Canned items such as beef stew, chili, soup, tuna and other canned meats, fruits, canned milk and vegetables;
- Dry goods like cereal, oatmeal, mac-and-cheese, boxed meals, mashed potato flakes, pasta, rice, non-fat dry milk, coffee and tea;
- Cooking supplies such as flour, spices and oils;
- Snacks like granola/meal bars, pretzels, popcorn and crackers;
- Condiments like peanut butter, jelly, jam, jarred spaghetti sauce, ketchup and mustard;
- Other items needed include can openers, soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and feminine products.
“The Southeast culture is one of service” said McAllister. “The campus food pantry is a great way for students to grow that culture within our campus community.”