Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
PINE BLUFF, Ark. – The Collegiate 4-H Club at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) has partnered with the Arkansas Food Bank to open a food pantry on the UAPB campus. An open house will be held to honor the pantry’s opening Tuesday, March 17, in room 233 of the Adair-Greenhouse Human Sciences Hall at UAPB from 11 a.m.-noon.
“The pantry will be open to all residential and commuter students with a valid student ID card,” said Rita Conley, instructor of agricultural economics at UAPB. “Its purpose is not intended as a sole food source for students, but rather to fill meal gaps from time to time when students are food insecure.”
The initiative was started after the Arkansas Food Bank contacted the office of student involvement at UAPB to gauge interest in a college food pantry program. The 4-H Club conducted an online survey of students, staff, faculty and administrators to assess need, support and available resources.
The survey revealed a need and overwhelming support and adequate resources to establish the pantry, Conley said. Of 137 students that responded to the survey, 78 percent reported not having enough food for themselves or their household. For half of the student responders, this lack of food occurred five or more times during a semester.
“Based on anecdotal evidence, college students are experiencing higher risk of food insecurity,” Conley said. “This is because they are considered a vulnerable population because they are often young, socioeconomically disadvantaged, have low levels of disposable income, live away from home and experience the increasing tuition and cost of living. Additionally, food insecurity by definition can be temporary and may pose negative student health and learning outcomes.”
According to the non-profit Feeding America, Arkansas ranks among the top 10 most food insecure states in the nation, with Jefferson County among the top 10 most food insecure counties in Arkansas. The statistics indicate that African Americans are twice as likely to be food insecure.
To address the food insecurity on UAPB campus, Pia Woods, family and consumer sciences/4-H Extension agent, helped establish the Jefferson County 4-H Foundation as the non-profit fiscal agent for a food pantry, Conley said. The pantry was approved as an Arkansas Food Bank Network partner in the fall of 2014.
The 4-H Club at UAPB then worked with with the UAPB Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) Club to make the pantry their signature community service project. Students completed required training, cleaned the pantry location, installed shelving and stocked the pantry. They also assisted students in completing intake forms and explained how the shopping-style pantry works.
Student volunteers will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the pantry with the supervision of the advisory board comprised of faculty, staff and administrative representatives. They will hold positions such as volunteer coordinator, inventory control manager, publicity coordinator, food drive coordinator and fundraising chairperson. Because many volunteers will be needed to sustain the pantry, other student organization members will be recruited to volunteer as well.
Currently the pantry at UAPB is open on the third Thursday of each month from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., however, depending on student demand and the availability of volunteers, the pantry could see hours extended to twice a month. Additionally, students in need of emergency food can visit the pantry by appointment.
Monetary donations to the pantry can be made payable to the Jefferson County 4-H Foundation, the pantry’s non-profit fiscal partner, and mailed to UAPB Student Food Pantry, Department of Agriculture, 1200 North University Drive Mail Slot 4913, Pine Bluff, AR 71601. Because of space limitation, the pantry only accepts specific donated food items from a list during planned and announced food drives. However, community and faith-based organizations are encouraged to sponsor food drives for the student pantry.
For the open house, attendants are asked to donate $1 or more, recyclable shopping bags or one or more of the following non-perishable food items ranked by order of need: peanut butter, canned fruit and easy open fruit snacks, microwavable food items, hot and cold beverage mix, breakfast cereals and bars, canned tuna and chicken, on-the-go snacks, pasta sauce, condiments, box dinners, potato mix, cornbread mix and canned vegetables.