food insecurity

UConn Stamford Working to Make Pop-Up Food Pantry Permanent

After hearing stories about students struggling to make ends meet, sociology professor Dr. Laura Buyan created a free, food pantry with more than 30 students.

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To address food insecurity and the absence of a dining center on campus, UConn Stamford students can now take snacks, cereals, and stock their own pantries throughout the day. 

It’s a first for the university that is trying to take one thing off students’ plates. Or really -- add to their plates.

“The ramen – take as much as you want. And the oatmeal has to go,” instructed Sociology Professor Dr. Laura Bunyan, as students filtered into the food pantry Tuesday afternoon.

The pop-up food pantry, which was intended to be a temporary class project, is now fulfilling a campus-wide need.  

“It's been years in the making because there's been so much food insecurity over the years, and you can help one student or two get resources, but there is just so many now,” said Bunyan. 

She says the pantry is designed to help students of all economic backgrounds stay fueled and focused.

According to Feeding America, the share of college students with low household incomes has only increased, with more than 70-percent financially independent, a caretaker, and/or working full-time.

After hearing stories of her own students struggling to afford class materials, Dr. Bunyan got to work.  

''The textbook was only $20. So, if they don't have $20 to buy the textbook, they can't get food,” said Dr. Bunyan. 

"I come here every week and it's just really helpful,” said Sophomore Paulina Cartagena. 

The pantry opened in early March and has become a place for students, like Paulina, to grab something quick before class.  

"To come here just to get some snacks and some cereal, just some small things really, makes us really happy,” said Sophomore Kelly Utreras. 

Utreras volunteers her time at the pantry two days a week. She stocks the shelves and encourages students to come in every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  

The food is free to students, thanks to an outside donor who provides the funds to purchase goods from Lower Fairfield County Food Bank. Rescue U.S. student volunteers will go out and shop, sometimes filling up six bags at a time. 

"It's hard for students to come to school full-time and most students I've talked to, like my friends, go to work full-time. And it is hard to balance that. And it's like safe haven for people to go when they’re hungry instead of going somewhere,” said Junior Katharine Vartuli. 

Bunyan says the problem isn't only exacerbated by a pandemic, but also the recent price increases in food, gas, and housing. 

"There are a lot that are hungry. You know, I finished up a meeting last week, and at the end of the meeting the students said, 'Is the food pantry open today?' And I said it's not. But I said if you need food, let me get you in there,” said Dr. Bunyan.

She says the university plans to take it over next semester and pay students to staff it. The school is also looking into ways to provide easier access to food. 

"Other things in the works are a farmer's market for the upcoming fall in the courtyard. The other step is to have some sort of meal plan with area restaurants, where students can use their cards to get food," said Bunyan.

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