The opening of the Bear Necessities Food Pantry in September 2019 was hailed as “a dream come true” by Lander University administrators.
In its third academic year of serving students, the Food Pantry has grown beyond expectations and recently served more than 155 students in a single week.
“A lot has changed,” said Dr. Zach Rubin, who conducted Lander’s first study on food insecurity on campus in 2019. “We have experienced quite a bit of growth. Each year, we have doubled the average number of students coming to see us on a weekly basis.”
The Food Pantry, a partnership between Lander and the Food Bank of Greenwood County, began when a survey of students found that 26 percent of them reported not eating for an entire day during the past 30 days. Of those students, 57 percent reported not eating for four days or more during the past 30 days. The numbers moved University administrators, faculty and staff to find a solution.
“Lander is close to the national average for food insecurity,” said Rubin, “but having a food pantry puts us ahead in addressing a common problem on college campuses.”
Even the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered the campus during the spring and summer months of 2020, didn’t deter plans for the Food Pantry opening that fall.
Since then, the Food Pantry also has expanded the types of goods that are offered “to include not just food but also home goods like toilet paper and laundry detergent,” said Rubin, chair of the Committee on Student Needs. “This year, we’ve also opened a new area of the pantry dedicated to professional clothing for students. So, if they have a job interview or something else they need to dress up for, they can get it from us free of charge.”
Sam Castine, of Chapin, a junior majoring in business with an emphasis on marketing and business management, has volunteered at the Food Pantry since it opened. “I am very thankful to have this resource on campus. Students are able to select what they need from the pantry. We let them shop on their own. The selection is as varied as Ramen noodles, canned goods, toiletries and toilet tissue and paper towels and more.”
Even students with special dietary needs or those wanting to maintain a healthy diet have a good selection of food items, Castine said.
Volunteers want students to feel welcome from the moment they enter the Food Pantry until they leave. “We realize this can be an intimidating thing to do, especially at first,” they said. “Students may not want to admit they need our services. We are here to make them feel comfortable and welcome. We don’t turn people away for any reason.”
Although the supplies that students receive may not be enough to cover all meals during the week, Rubin said, “I always think of it in terms of offsetting overall costs. We may or may not be able to cover someone’s entire grocery bill, but however much we can help allows students some more breathing room in other areas like utilities or gas to drive to campus.”
The success of the Food Pantry comes as the second annual Music for Meals fundraiser to benefit the Food Pantry is scheduled from 6 – 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Lander Equestrian Center. The event, featuring all-you-can-eat barbecue and oysters, will have entertainment by the Emerald Empire Band.
“The response from the campus and the greater Greenwood community has been overwhelmingly positive. As soon as people hear about it, they usually either say ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘how can I help?’ ” Rubin said.
The increase in demand for the Food Pantry’s services has been driven by students sharing the information with their friends on campus and through marketing efforts to reach students at events, such as freshman orientation, Castine said.
The opportunity to interact with other students is an advantage of being a volunteer. “You meet people from around campus. It’s a fun way to get to know other people.”
Castine plans to take the spirit of volunteerism into professional life upon graduation in 2024. “The Food Pantry has become a very big part of my college experience. I want to help out wherever I can.”
Rubin expects the Food Pantry to keep growing. “The need is a long-standing problem, and I doubt we’ve reached saturation for addressing it.”
Visit https://allevents.in/greenwood/music-for-meals-benefit-concert-2022/10000386940438267 to learn more about Music for Meals and purchase tickets.
For updates, visit the Bear Necessities Food Pantry on Facebook and website: www.lander.edu/bear-necessities