SARASOTA, Fla. (Jan. 13, 2020) – The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee will open a food pantry this spring to help alleviate food insecurity among some students. The “Support-a-Bull Pantry” will be sustained by campus donations and Sarasota-based All Faiths Food Bank, which will provide non-perishable food items to the pantry at no cost.
“Our goal is to use the resources available to us to help students solve problems that keep them from achieving academic success here at USFSM,” said Bart Stucker, coordinator of orientation and recreation programs at USFSM. “We want them to know that we are here to help.”
Stucker worked with Allison Dinsmore, assistant director of student success, to create the pantry program. A final walk-through with representatives of All Faiths Food Bank is scheduled this week. The program will debut by March and join existing food pantry programs at USF campuses in Tampa and St. Petersburg.
Food insecurity is a growing challenge at colleges. A report last year by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice estimated that 48 percent of community college students and 41 percent of four-year university students who responded to the center’s survey were food insecure. Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as lacking consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Nearly 86,000 students answered the survey, which was distributed to 123 colleges and universities.
In response to this important issue, increasing numbers of colleges and universities are turning to food pantry programs. The College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), which launched in 2012 with just 15 schools, now numbers close to 700 campus-based food pantry programs, including many with direct links to local food banks. CUFBA offers toolkits to campuses to start a food pantry.
“It is clear that food insecurity is a pressing and prevalent issue, not only on our campus, but among college students across the country,” USFSM Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook, PhD, said. “USF Sarasota-Manatee embraces our responsibility to provide services that may help students maintain optimal physical and mental health as they pursue their educational and career objectives. The success of our students is our utmost goal at USFSM.”
USFSM’s pantry will be designed to operate simply and confidentially. Students will shop for groceries through an online portal and then pick up their items at a discreet campus location. A worker will distribute the items in plain packaging.
“We know that students may feel nervous or embarrassed about asking for help, and we are using technology to bridge that gap,” Dinsmore said.
The pantry is one of several strategies to emerge after the campus launched the Food and Housing Insecurity Committee two years ago to address students’ basic life needs. Other strategies included a collaboration with USFSM’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership to develop workshops around budget-conscious cooking and wellness and nutrition.
“When students are hungry, they will look for anything available and not necessarily something that’s good for them,” said Stucker, who co-chairs the committee with Dinsmore. “It may come out of a vending machine. It may be fast food. We want them to place a focus on mindful eating.”
In addition to the assistance of All Faiths Food Bank, the pantry will be supported by recurring campuswide food drives. A kickoff event is scheduled this week to spread the word about the pantry and increase contributions. As many USFSM students are married and supporting children, the pantry will be available to students’ families as well.
“This pantry will help feed students and their families who face food challenges in our community,” Stucker said.
In addition to food items, the committee is accepting donations of blankets, sanitary items, razors, toothbrushes and other toiletries. To make a donation, please visit https://giving.usf.edu/online/gift/f/SC0034/.
For more about USF Sarasota-Manatee, visit www.usfsm.edu.