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Student Council and U.Va. Community Food Pantry partner to provide Thanksgiving meal kits to students

The meal kits are available to be picked up at the Student Activity Center

This year, Student Council has partnered with the U.Va. Community Food Pantry to distribute free Thanksgiving meal kits to students.
This year, Student Council has partnered with the U.Va. Community Food Pantry to distribute free Thanksgiving meal kits to students.

Students who have stayed on Grounds over Thanksgiving break in past years know well the challenges of finding on-Grounds dining options. This year, Student Council has partnered with the U.Va. Community Food Pantry to expand their annual distribution of free Thanksgiving meal kits to students who have opted not to travel home. 

This year, Student Council made around 200 meal kits that students had to register through a Microsoft form to obtain on a first come first serve basis. Students who filled out the form were able to pick up their meal kit in the Student Activity Center in Newcomb Hall on whichever day they indicated would be best for them.

Extra meal kits were placed on a table at the front of the Student Activity Center for any student to come in and take, even if they did not previously sign up through the form. Any extra kits were put into storage for general use by the Food Pantry. 

Christopher Joseph, Student Life Director of Student Council and third-year College student, said that this year’s partnership with the U.Va. Community Food Pantry greatly increased the impact that this initiative was able to have in comparison to past efforts.

“Typically it’s about 100 [meal kits] every break [before the partnership],” Joseph said. “We just recently were able to partner with the U.Va. Community Food Pantry to essentially double the amount of items that we could put in a meal kit but also double the amount of meal kits in general.”

All three dining halls will observe modified hours over the break. Newcomb Dining Hall will close starting Wednesday and reopen for dinner on Sunday, while Observatory Hill Dining Hall will close after Wednesday breakfast and reopen for breakfast on Sunday. Runk Dining Hall will be closed beginning Wednesday and reopen on Monday.

Each kit comes with 20 nonperishable items, including loaves of bread, canned foods, fruit cups, ramen noodles and shelf stable milk. Meal kits are also able to be modified to accommodate students with allergy and dietary restrictions.

Low-income, international and out-of-state students are the most common recipients of the meal kits each break. As a first generation, low-income student himself, Joseph said that he has relied on the Food Pantry in the past which makes this program personal and important to him.

“When I first became Student Life Director, I was like, ‘Okay, this is giving me the opportunity to kind of give back or lead the thing that I’ve always been a part of,’” Joseph said. “Being able to turn that personal experience into something that is actually meaningful has been extremely helpful.”

Up to 33 percent of University students experience food insecurity at some point over their time at the University, according to a statement published online by Will Guilford, associate dean for Undergraduate Affairs. The CFP fulfills its mission of eliminating financial burden on U.Va. students and staff by providing essential food and hygiene items at its physical location in the Student Activity Center on the first floor of Newcomb. The pantry is open access for any student or staff to come and take what they need.

Eleanor Steiner, Volunteer Coordinator of CFP and third-year College student, said that learning about food insecurity in school and witnessing how prevalent the issue was in Charlottesville and at the University was shocking.

“To me that was really upsetting that people are coming here and then not being able to get enough to eat, especially over breaks,” Steiner said. “I think that just caring about my peers and feeling like U.Va. has given so much to me, I really felt upset that others weren’t being able to be supported.”

The food in the meal kits has been provided through orders from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which is something that is new this year with Student Council’s collaboration with CFP. Along with this, food has been donated from numerous local stores, including Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s.

The Food Pantry in Newcomb is open throughout the school year but is closed over Thanksgiving break and a portion of winter break. Steiner said one challenge for the food pantry is that many students still do not know that this resource is available to them. 

“A huge portion of our school is struggling [with food insecurity], and I think a challenge to that is that they don’t know they have this resource,” Steiner said. “[CFP] is open access, so anyone can go in, so if people need these resources over break they will be able to access them.”

In previous years, Student Council has also issued meal kits over spring break, albeit without the partnership with CFP. Joseph said that he hopes to maintain the partnership with CFP in the future and expand the program to encompass other school breaks.

“We do hope to expand upon that partnership in the spring when we do meal kits again,” Joseph said. “One of the things Student Council is looking for is how many students need winter break meal kits, because it’s something that we haven’t done, but it might be something that students still need.”


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