Student group bringing food pantries to campus, aimed at alleviating student hunger

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A new study shows that actions to demand improvements would be most welcomed in communities of color, where children are also exposed to greater amounts of unhealthy food marketing. (Shutterstock Photo)

A new student organization at the University of Connecticut seeks to end food insecurity and student hunger on campus through temporary “pop-up food closets.”

The organization, UConn Access to Food Effort (UCAFE), opened its first pop-up food closet in the student union Thursday afternoon, allowing anyone affiliated with UConn to access the groceries, according to co-founders Wawa Gatheru and Abhishek Gupta.

Gupta said they decided to take action at UConn after witnessing national trends of students lacking access to nutritional foods or reliable meals.

“So I think across the nation we’re kind of seeing this trend where food insecurity is becoming more of a prevalent issue among college students on campuses,” Gupta said. “So we got the idea… to run a pop-up [food pantry].

Gupta said besides distributing food, they are also collecting data on food insecurity through surveys on campus.

“So what we did, Wawa and I got together and we created a survey that studies food insecurity, studies food access, on this campus and distributed it,” Gupta said. “We have about 1,500 respondents at the moment and we’re going to be working to do the analysis on that data that we’ve collected.”

Gatheru said she believes collecting this data is important so the university and UCAFE can address the issues on campus.

“So there’s no survey or no data on how many of our students are facing this and there are no things like food pantries or that sort or emergency food aid systems to support these students so we launched this dual program,” Gatheru said. “The first part is a survey to fill in that gap of, like, not having that certain data, and the second is having those resources.”

Gatheru said the program has received overwhelming support from both students and administrators.

“People have reached out to me saying that they’re really excited and they’re really happy that this is happening,” Gatheru said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from the administration as well.”

Gupta said although people are showing support for the initiative, not many people know what food insecurity looks like on a college campus.

“Food insecurity is the ability to access quality, wholesome nutrition on a regular basis,” Gupta said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s hunger or that there’s starvation, as some people would imagine, but rather that people are struggling to just properly feed themselves and I think that’s really important part of how we’re supposed to conduct our lives.”

He also said he hopes the way people in college look at food changes because of how important it is to growth.

“Food is probably the first thing that falls off the table — the last thing you think about at the end of the day,” Gupta said. “I think it is really important that we try to shift that narrative because food ultimately is really important. It’s how you feed your body; it’s how you grow your mind. And that’s what we’re all here to do at college.”

Gatheru said although currently they will be running temporary food closets, she hopes to be able to establish a full-time food pantry on campus.

“We’re hosting several pop-up food pantries with the goal of having a permanent food pantry on campus,” Gatheru said. “We’re driven by the fact that we’re all huskies and we should have those resources.”


Andrew Miano is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at andrew.miano@uconn.edu.

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