When Dr. Shannon Gary joined USF in Feb. 2017, the dean of students and associate vice provost for student life found students coming to him saying they were hungry. “If you have 10 students that are coming forward,” Gary said, “That means there are 100 that are actually experiencing it.”
In response, Gary will open a food pantry for two days per month in the basement of Gleeson Library starting Sept. 21. All USF students will have access, regardless of financial background.
The pantry will offer non-perishable items like beans, rice, soups and boxed milk with additional options to fit gluten-free diets. Each item will be worth a different amount of points, and students can spend 15 points on each visit –– a rule which Gary said will not be strictly enforced. “If you need more than 15 points, we’re not going to stop you,” he said.
Gary’s plan for the pantry stretches back to Oct. 2017 when he, along with nine other members, formed a task force to combat food insecurity on campus that included an undergraduate and graduate representative.
While the group did not conduct any formal polling, Gary said anecdotal stories from hungry students served as evidence that a pantry was needed. Data from the Campus Climate Survey conducted in April 2018 supported the conclusions of the task force: 37 percent of USF students have “difficulty affording food,” the survey found.
Gary’s group also consulted with the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank to learn about operating a food pantry. For instance, the task force learned that student volunteers should not work during the pantry’s open hours to protect the confidentiality of its users. The pantry will also have a website connecting students to other pantries in the area, as well as alternative resources for what Gary described as “longer term solutions.”
To fund the initial costs of the pantry, Gary reallocated money from the Office of the Dean of Students. He declined to specify the exact amount because “it will be based on usage and the need to restock.” Gary also plans on eventually accepting food donations to stock the pantry after its infrastructure is more established.
Gary said the prices of cafeteria food on campus are a consideration when trying to ease food insecurity. “There is absolutely the acknowledgement that it is pricey to eat in the cafeteria,” Gary said. He would like to see Bon Appétit, the university’s on-site restaurant company, offer students a lower-priced meal for lunch and dinner, since they offer the most geographically convenient source of food to students. Gary’s group has not formally approached Bon Appétit with this plan. Gary said, “If we could have a conversation around a healthy alternative, even if it just one thing, that’s a step in the right direction,” noting that one of the few cheap options at the cafeteria are the $5.95 (plus tax) chicken tenders.
One student, who asked not to be identified, said she resorted to stealing from the University’s cafeteria last year when living off campus because she couldn’t afford on-campus meals. “That started in the beginning of the [2017-18 academic] year,” she said. “And pretty much lasted the entirety of the year.” The student, who described her family’s economic situation as middle class, said her first priority was to pay her rent. This left little money for food.
The student said she won’t use the pantry this year since she is now a resident advisor and therefore receives a Flexi meal plan.
“[Students] are making the decisions, ‘I had to pay for my rent, I had to pay for my utilities, I had to pay for my car. So that took away money for me to be able to buy food,’” Gary said. “Usually food insecurity is coupled with other insecurities.”
Others at USF have tried to tackle food insecurity on campus.
“To hear that some students are having [food security] issues… it’s really sad,” Adjunct Professor Novella Carpenter said. Carpenter, who manages and teaches classes at USF’s Community Garden, is also the best selling author of “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer,” a memoir that partially discusses food insecurity in Ghost Town, a neighborhood in West Oakland, Calif. Carpenter said she has also tried to help hungry students on campus through the Community Garden. “After class, people get to harvest food and take it home if they want,” Carpenter said. She also lets students take home produce during the weekly garden workdays on Thursdays.
Students are also helping combat hunger on campus.
Senior Maggie Shugerman, co-founder of USF’s Food Recovery Network chapter, collects unused food from the University’s cafeterias after closing. Student volunteers then deliver it to sites around San Francisco. Shugerman said FRN volunteers receive a free meal every time they work.
“If you’re not fed and feeling good, then you can’t do good things,” Shugerman said.