UACCB starts food pantry to meet growing need
By Andrea Bruner
Schools in America offer a number of programs aimed at curbing hunger, but when students graduate high school, that doesn't mean the need goes away.
Recognizing that in order to learn, students must eat, the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville is opening a food pantry this school year. The college recently took their first delivery from the Arkansas Food Bank, just in time for the first day of school, which is Aug. 21.
Students do not have to show proof of income or verify tax information to participate, although the state food bank does ask for an application to be filled out for demographic purposes. And students can come as often as needed, whether it's one time or every time the doors are open, said Kristen Cross, financial aid director at UACCB and one of the driving forces behind getting the pantry up and going. The pantry is located in the Main Classroom Building, Room 226, but organizers hope to see it grow and eventually include refrigeration so they can distribute meats, milk and fresh produce. The food pantry is operated separately from the “Lunch Basket,” another endeavor at the college that addresses food insecurity.
Around three or four years ago, a group of individuals at UACCB came together on their own to start the “Lunch Basket” for hungry students. The idea was to give them something to eat that would be quick and easy, with no refrigeration required, explained Jennifer Emery, academic advisor and retention specialist.
“We saw the need with the Lunch Basket program was much greater than we anticipated,” Emery said, adding that some students were asking if they could take a few items home for the weekend or a holiday break.
“Food insecurity is becoming a national issue for college-age people,” Emery continued. “They've gone through public schools, K-12, and there is the national lunch program where lunch and breakfast have been provided to those in need. They get to the college level, and there still is a need.
“Even some who did not have a need in high school have gone out on their own and tried to juggle going to school, working full- or part-time, and their dollars are stretched so thin to pay all the necessities of living on their own that food kind of gets pushed aside to keep the lights on and keep the bills paid.”
But there is some legislation aimed to try address this.
According to recent research from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, nearly 45 percent of community college students report some degree of food insecurity, including skipping meals because they cannot afford to buy food.
Earlier this summer, California Congressman Adam Schiff introduced the Food for Thought Act, a pilot program that would provide grants to community colleges so they can offer free meals to students who need them. The bill would authorize $6 million for the program, allowing colleges to receive grants of up to $200,000.
It was about a year ago, however, that Emery attended an educational conference and learned institutions like UACCB could become a member of the Arkansas Food Bank.
“It's truly been a cross-campus effort,” Emery said, noting that it has all been on a volunteer basis. “Everybody has pulled together.”
The Baptist Campus Ministries, well-known for its free lunches provided on campus each Thursday during the academic year, has also stepped up to help with distribution.
Although the Lunch Basket, which is located in the academic advising office, is open and accessible all the time, the food pantry will be open on the first and third Thursday of each month, with hours yet to be determined.
The new food pantry will also have a few personal hygiene items, such as laundry soap and shampoo, UACCB Foundation director Kim Whitten said, then will expand upon that as they see what the needs are.
Emery said there are students who fall under the guidelines of being homeless.
“In talking to students, it was really surprising to me how many don't have a stable home – they 'couch surf.' They might be at an aunt's house for a month, a girlfriend's house for a month, a friend's house. When they move like that, their stuff gets left behind, so they're transitioning all the time.”
“We've had some tell us they live in their car,” Cross said.
But yet, they're still going to class and keeping up with coursework.
“We as a society have tried to come into those elementary and high schools with backpacks or other programs to overcome food insecurity, but once they graduate that (need) doesn't just go away. They're still hungry,” Whitten said. “So this is our small way to try to address that issue.”
The pantry has been stocked with dry cereals, peanut butter, instant cup of noodle meals, saltine crackers, laundry detergent, fruit cups and more.
Emery said because so many students are in a state of transition and may not have a full kitchen or even pots and pans, they hope to stock a lot of portable, heat-and-serve foods.
Cross said they'll report to the food bank how many are served each month, and if the food pantry at UACCB runs low on something, they can place an order to replenish it. The food bank delivers the items to the college.
The Lunch Basket and food pantry are both run solely on donations, but the UACCB Foundation will accept donations for either food insecurity program. Giving may also be done online on the UACCB website, http://uaccb.edu, under the “Foundation” tab.
“When we started our Lunch Basket program, the stigma went away, and I hope there's never a stigma with this,” Emery said.