pantry pic

Senior Nico Suarez gathers food for people while volunteering at the campus food pantry May 9.

Volunteers at the student-operated Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Campus Food Pantry are collaborating with campus organizations to combat food insecurity among students, faculty and staff.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines low food security as the lack of access to nutritional food.

Food insecurity can result in individual physiological hunger conditions such as illness, weakness, pain and discomfort, according to the USDA.

The Full Circle Food Pantry, which a group of students founded in 2012, offers three-day emergency food supply to students, faculty, staff and anyone with a UA identification card, said Volunteer Action Center Chair Nico Suarez.

“Anyone can come in, they can get a bag, and the amount of food that goes in is dependent on the household size,” Suarez said. “So, bigger households will get more food, and vice versa.”

The pantry also offers seasonal baskets around holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, Suarez said.

Suarez is a volunteer and executive board member at the Full Circle Food Pantry. Nine students, who are also VAC members, serve on the board.

In an effort to feasibly target food insecurity on a campus-wide scale using available resources, the VAC collaborated with the Associated Student Government and Chartwells Dining in February to organize a meal donation drive, from which all proceeds went to the Full Circle Food Pantry.

With the fundraiser, students raised 867 meals and an additional $840 through meal swipe, cash and Dining Dollars donations, former ASG President J.P. Gairhan said.

The first meal donation drive took place in 2013 and raised approximately 200 meals, according to an ASG report published in 2013.

Though Gairhan graduated this year, his successor will continue the meal donation drive in the coming fall, he said.

“I’m really excited that the meal donation drive with the Volunteer Action Center is going to continue,” Gairhan said. “We’re already working to schedule that in the fall and hopefully grow that program.”

Suarez is hopeful that the VAC will collaborate with ASG and Chartwells on other projects to benefit the food pantry in future semesters, he said. While the VAC does receive year-round donations toward the food pantry, Suarez would like to see increased campus programming and more fundraisers like the meal swipe donation drive, he said.

Chartwells dining hall staff often approach food pantry volunteers and ask how they can help and what they can do with leftover meals at the end of each week, Suarez said.

The students who founded the food pantry in 2012 noticed that many students at Brough Dining Hall would stock up on food for the weekend, Suarez said. After doing research and discovering that other universities had food pantries, they decided to start one at the UofA.

In the first week of operation, the food pantry served 12 families, Suarez said. Now, more than six years later, the food pantry serves up to 80 families in a week.

When Suarez had an on-campus meal plan, he knew many students, including himself, who often had leftover meal swipes at the end of the week and no practical use for them, he said. Simultaneously, many students run out of meal swipes before the week is over, often preventing them from eating over the weekend.

Full Circle Food Pantry volunteers are trying to increase the supply of fresh produce, so that those facing food insecurity have access to healthier options, Suarez said.

There is a garden outside the pantry, where staff grow produce, but because an outdoor garden is hard to sustain during the winter, there is still a shortage of produce, Suarez said.

The food pantry, located at 324 Stadium Dr., is open Mondays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesdays from 3-5 p.m. and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 

Katelyn Duby is a news editor for the Arkansas Traveler, where she previously worked as a reporter in 2018 and a senior staff reporter in 2019.

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