Student Council launches food drive for low-income students
The University is no stranger to new community initiatives. Ambitious and passionate students here seem to have an perpetual desire to give back, with more 3,000 students helping those in the greater-Charlottesville area through Madison House alone. Still, sometimes it’s easier to look outward instead of inward, neglecting needy students in favor of helping those outside the University. A new program sponsored by Student Council’s Student Life committee aims to change that.
“Hoos’ Pantry,” which launched last Tuesday, is designed to meet the needs of financially burdened students by creating a food bank directly accessible to them. Founder Jessie Cappello, a third-year College student, was inspired to create the program after reading about similar organizations in universities across the nation, including the University of California-Los Angeles, West Virginia University and the University of Arkansas.
After learning about these organizations, Cappello surveyed the University’s student body and found there was indeed a need for such a system here. “It’s scary knowing that there are students for whom food is a concern, because for so many of us it’s not,” she said. “If [most of us] were to miss a meal, it’s not because we couldn’t afford to have a meal. It’s something we take for granted.”
In the spirit of a community of trust, the Pantry accepts anonymous donations from students, and does not use a monitor of any kind. Students may freely donate and take items from the Pantry at any time, with no limit or tracking on their use of the system. At universities with similar organizations, a computerized system is used to track student information and inventory.
“Our goal was for it to be a comfortable environment for students to take food whenever they want,” Cappello said.
Associate Dean of Students Laurie Casteen, who works with low-income students, played a fundamental role in helping Hoos’ Pantry reach its target audience by emailing students to whom the Pantry would be most beneficial. To the best of her knowledge, no similar organization at the University has ever made it past the planning stage of development.
“I think the fact that [Hoo’s Pantry] won’t be staffed will help students who are a little hesitant feel much more comfortable accessing it,” Casteen said. “Knowing that they are equal parts of this community, and that they are equally valued, is a really important thing for students who are able to access the Pantry.”
Casteen also believes Hoos’ Pantry will encourage University students to remember that a need for service exists within their own college community, not just in the broader Charlottesville, national and global communities.
Hoos’ Pantry has solicited the help of the Greek community, religious groups, various CIOs and other Student Council committees as the group seeks to secure financial backing. The Honor Committee fully funded the first stocking of Hoos’ Pantry, and several sororities and fraternities have asked for boxes to put in their houses to collect donations.
“I think of it as leveling the playing field,” Casteen said. “Every student has advantages and disadvantages they bring with them when they come to school — some are financial, some are academic, some are experiential. I think it’s important for all students to have an opportunity to have that playing field leveled.”
The Pantry itself is located at the back of the Pavilion XI dining facility and is open to students during Newcomb Hall’s normal operating hours — from 8 a.m. until midnight Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to midnight on Sunday.
Students may place donations in the Programs Council’s office on the first floor of Newcomb Hall. All nonperishable items are accepted, but Cappello stressed the benefits of providing “meal items,” such as pasta, pasta sauce, peanut butter and bread, as opposed to snack foods like chips and fruit snacks.
“There are so many students who give back to the University in other ways, and this is just our way,” Cappello said. “It’s not a ‘project.’ It’s an institution of the University that is there for students who need it.”