Cooking demonstrations featuring tasty, easy-to-prepare recipes. Bins of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Cases full of milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs.
Thanks to new gifts totaling $600,000—an anonymous $500,000 gift and $100,000 from umd parents Troy and Danielle Gregory—the university’s Campus Pantry, which provides sustenance to food-insecure members of the umd community, will soon expand to significantly increase its impact on students, faculty and staff.
Since 2014, the Campus Pantry, housed in a small conference room in the basement of the Health Center, has provided free food items and ingredients to Terps who are food insecure, meaning lacking consistent access to nutritious foods—a problem on college campuses nationwide. A study this year by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice found that 41% of students at four-year universities are food-insecure.
About 20% of umd students were food-insecure at some point within the prior year, according to a new survey led by Yu-Wei Wang, research director and assistant director of the university’s Counseling Center. That’s up from the 15% found in 2015, when a pilot study led by Assistant Professor Devon Payne- Sturges and Professor Amelia Arria in the School of Public Health surveyed 237 undergraduate students.
“The results show the significant impact of food insecurity on students’ mental and physical health, as well as their academic success,” says Wang. These students reported higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness than their peers, and generally had lower GPAs and were more likely to withdraw from the university before finishing their degrees.
“I was thinking I didn’t have enough money to buy food and pay rent and that was kinda tough,” said one survey respondent. “I was thinking: ‘Should I do part-time or drop [out] this semester?’”
Among those likeliest to experience food insecurity are students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, first-generation college students, racial or ethnic minority students, international students, transfer students, students with a disability and transgender/ gender non-conforming students.
Coordinated by Dining Services, led by umd students and supported by a range of departments and student organizations, the Campus Pantry has seen a steady increase in use: In its first year of operation, 158 people visited a total of 338 times; in the 2018–19 academic year, 790 clients visited 2,559 times.
The Campus Pantry’s new space— just around the corner in the Health Center—will be 1,227 square feet, and will have more storage space, new refrigerated cases for perishable items like dairy products and produce from Terp Farm, meeting space where staff can meet one-on-one with clients and kitchen space to show clients how to make meals out of various ingredients.
A new separate entrance will also increase the comfort of potential clients who want to visit the pantry discreetly. (Currently, the pantry is only accessible through the Health Center.) An independent entrance that’s open longer hours than the Health Center can also help staff evaluate the pantry’s optimal operating hours by determining when clients (many of whom have jobs in addition to their academic load) have free time to visit.
“We want to make sure we can get as many resources and as much information to the students as possible, so these new features will really enhance the ability of students to … get what they need,” says Allison Lilly Tjaden, assistant director of new initiatives for Dining Services.
The expansion is a critical step in broadening the Campus Pantry’s reach, the team says. Food-insecure Terps agree that the pantry and the survey of food insecurity on campus are necessary steps toward addressing the issue. “I felt that my voice was heard,” said one survey respondent, “and that the university is doing something to make sure that students who don’t have access to meal plans have some sort of help.”
Supporting the project helps ensure that Terps in need have the same opportunities as other students, says Troy Gregory. “Anything that can help provide people a safe place they can rely on for the things in life we take for granted just seemed very important for me and my family,” Gregory says. “I would hope that it will continue to grow and it will always be a place that people can go to knowing that they never have to worry about what they’re going to do for breakfast, lunch or dinner.”