Campus food pantry opens: homelessness, low income targeted
A campus food pantry meant to serve the temporary needs of MTSU’s low-income and homeless students is open and seeking food donations after months of uncertainty.
The pantry is housed and operated from the University College Advising Center in the McFarland Building.
In less than two weeks, the pantry collected nearly 75 pounds of food, said Becca Seul, who helps oversee the pantry, but certain needs still need to be met.
“We have a big need for breakfast-type stuff, like oatmeal and the little individual box cereal,” Seul said. “The soups and vegetables in cans are great. We have to keep in mind, we’re giving out cans, and a lot of students don’t even have access to can openers, so we have to try to get those easy-open cans if we can.”
Seul also said bottled water and boxed juices also remain a need.
Due to logistical reasons in accounting, the pantry will not currently accept money donations.
The purpose of the pantry is to offer temporary assistance. Seul said a log will be kept, and students with a persisting need will be advised of other, larger community organizations that can help offer permanent solutions.
Students seeking services from the pantry will need to bring a student identification in order to provide proof of enrollment in the university.
The idea of a food pantry first came up in April in legislation passed by the SGA, but implementation was delayed due to concerns about which campus department be best to oversee the operation.
But Seul said this pantry began as an independent effort.
“It was basically an idea between me and one of our assistant directors, Heather Arrington,” Seul said. “I do the homeless verifications for MTSU for financial aid. I’ve noticed a big increase in the homeless population on campus, foster-care students and students coming from low income, so we decided that it was something that we needed to do.”
The pantry will take donations and offer services Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and an updated list of pantry needs can be found at http://www.mtsu.edu/advising/FoodPantry.php.
Despite setbacks in its own attempt at a pantry, SGA will move forward as a partner with the advising center, leaders said.
“The University College Advising Center decided that they actually had the facility and the full-time staff for them to be able to run it,” said SGA Executive Vice President Rachel Lee, a major proponent of the pantry. “They’re going to have a consistent staff to run it year after year, whereas officers and senators are going to change out by the year, and so that is one plus side for sure, just to ensure sustainability.”
Although Lee and Seul both said SGA would have a role in promoting and working with the pantry, the details have yet to be confirmed.
While comprehensive data on the nationwide trend of campus food pantries and of the number of students in need are not available, recent media coverage, academic studies and the generally poor economy seemed to indicate both have risen in recent years.
Pantries at Tennessee State University and at Austin Peay both began earlier this year, and a 2010 study at the City University of New York, cited in a Sept. 10 article of the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 39 percent of students in the CUNY system dealt with some form of hunger in the previous year.
Seul said that coming forward is often the hardest part.
“We have more students on this campus that will actually struggle on their own instead of self-identify because they don’t want people to know,” Seul said.
But Seul added that often these situations are temporary and can be dealt with quickly.
Of the 48 students that she verified as homeless since March 2011, Seul said she has renewed only four to date.
“From my perspective it looks like these students are getting back on their feet and are finding places to live,” she said. “We’ve given them a lot of resources in the community to help them get on their feet as well.”