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U.Va. Dining hosts donation drive ahead of U.Va. Community Food Pantry opening

Students given opportunity to exchange meal swipe for one pound food donation to pantry

<p>Students donated a total of 641 meal swipes</p>

Students donated a total of 641 meal swipes

The U.Va. Community Food Pantry and University of Virginia Dining hosted a “Stock the Pantry” event in Newcomb Hall Monday.

Students donated a total of 641 meal swipes ahead of the opening of the U.Va. Community Food Pantry later this month. Dining will contribute one pound of non-perishable food items to the pantry in exchange for each meal swipe donated.

The pantry will open Oct. 12 in the Runk Dining Hall Green Room from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. It will operate in October from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays with different hours in November and December. Student volunteers will staff the pantry.

Ellie Brasacchio, chair of the Student Council Representative Body and a third-year College student, is the development coordinator for the U.Va. Community Food Pantry working to collaborate with other student organizations.

“The biggest goal of the food pantry is just to alleviate food insecurity on Grounds for staff, students and faculty,” Brasacchio said.

In October 2017, the U.Va. Student Senate voted to support the creation of a food bank, and a month later Student Council passed a bill creating a committee to oversee the pantry.

While there is no specific data on food insecurity among U.Va. students, much of the data used to support the opening of a food pantry at the University comes from the Wisconsin HOPE Lab at University of Wisconsin, an organization that has conducted extensive research on food insecurity on college campuses. The U.Va. Food Pantry cited a study done by the HOPE Lab in a handout passed out at Newcomb during the event.

“In the past 30 days, 42% of community college students and 36% of university students reported experiencing food insecurity, meaning that they had trouble getting enough to eat on a daily basis,” the handout reads.

Gwen Dilworth, executive director of the U.Va. Community Food Pantry and a fourth-year College student, said her goal for the pantry is to start working toward addressings systemic issues of food and financial insecurity in the U.Va. community.

“I think people have been talking for a long time about ways to create a more just food system at U.Va.,” Dilworth said. “The food pantry is a starting place, and I think as an organization we definitely want to use the support that we’ve garnered to work towards more insitutionationalized solutions to food insecurity, to financial insecurity, to housing insecurity at U.Va.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a person faces food insecurity when they receive insufficient access to food to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Students who donated meal swipes said it was an easy way to contribute to what they believe is an important cause.

“I donated today because I just think that the whole point of students who have the privilege of having a meal plan to donate swipes to donate a pound of food to the food pantry is one of the many ways U.Va. students can contribute to the Charlottesville community,” fourth-year College student Marie Olavere said. “There’s just so much we can give, and this is just another way to give back.”

First-year College student Fara Islam — who has an unlimited meal plan — said the ability to exchange a meal swipe to donate to the food pantry made it simple to donate. 

“I donated today because I have unlimited swipes, so it would be the right thing to do since I have so many swipes and so to give back is just a courteous thing to do,” Islam said.

Dilworth said one of the aims of the Stock the Pantry event was not only to collect food donation but also to raise awareness about the pantry. She said assigning the exchange of one meal swipe to one pound of food donated was a decision made with Aramark, the University’s food provider. 

“For people who are first years, they have an unlimited meal plan so it’s an in-kind gesture from UVA Dining,” Dilworth said. “A pound is an arbitrary number to a certain degree but it just made sense for starting off and to be able to stock the pantry up front.”

The U.Va. Community Food Pantry is looking to coordinate their efforts with other food pantries in the Charlottesville area while remaining a Student Council-directed program. The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank is one organization interested in supporting the new food pantry’s efforts and possibly using the partnership as a model to be used at other colleges and universities. 

“We are looking at a structure in which we can take on the U.Va. food pantry as a program and that just means it will provide a certain set of food along with best practices for distributing said food,” BRAFB Communications Director Abena Foreman-Trice said. “If we can develop an understanding of how our partnership can work to solve problems in terms of students who are food insecure and in need on the U.Va. campus, then the working arrangement or structure can become a model to be used with other area colleges and universities.”