Husky Harvest, an ongoing partnership between the University of Connecticut and Connecticut Foodshare, has begun at the Storrs campus in an effort to tackle food insecurity.
Last semester, the UConn administration set up food pantries at the regional campuses after a study showed that up to 60% of students at the Waterbury and Avery Point campuses considered themselves food insecure, according to Lily Forand, the University of Connecticut’s Food Insecurity Advocacy Coordinator.
“At Waterbury and Avery Point numbers were at 50 to 60% of students that were food insecure,” Forand said of the study results.
Forand also said that since the numbers were lower at Storrs, with 35% of students there facing food insecurity, the administration prioritized establishing food pantries at the regional campuses over Storrs in the beginning. However, toward the end of last semester, the administration decided on doing the same at Storrs.
“At Storrs the number was 35% which is still pretty high… but it wasn’t high enough for the minds of the university administration to necessitate creating a pantry share,” Forand added. “Eventually they decided otherwise, so at the end of last semester they started planning for a Husky Harvest on the Storrs campus.”
Husky Harvest is not the only initiative that UConn has set forth to address food insecurity. Dining Services has continued its Give A Meal tradition, where students with a meal plan can donate flex passes to students in need of meals via the Dean of Students Office’s Students First Fund.
According to Dining Services Executive Director Michael White, last semester’s Give A Meal contributed to a total of $10,000 in donations made to the Students First Fund.
“We take those donations and we provide the financial support directly to the Student First Fund, to the Dean of Students Office…[who] will use that funding in some cases to support food insecurity and provide students with access either through a community plan or a set number of meals,” White said. “Last semester we did the $10k donation to the Student First Fund through Dining, basically based on those donations.”
The next Give A Meal is scheduled for April 12, 2023, according to White.
The next Husky Harvest pantry will take place at Charter Oak Apartments on the Storrs campus and is scheduled to open Monday, March 20, but might be changed depending on weather and delivery status. It will offer a larger variety of food for students.
“[The pantry] will be at Charter Oak in the community room,” Forand said. “They’re completely renovating it now…to make it a fully functioning pantry. We’ll be able to get non-perishable foods, frozen foods, produce—really exciting stuff.”
The pantry will remain open Mondays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. through 4 p.m.
The pantry will not only offer food items for students, but also other basic necessities such as shampoo, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap and laundry detergent, according to White.
“We keep calling it a food pantry but the people have necessities, people have things that some of us take for granted in life but they’re expensive,” White said. “Mental health is a very concerning topic for all of us now. People struggle in a variety of ways, and sometimes just being able to take a shower can reset your perspective for the day. What I don’t want somebody to have to struggle with is the decision of: Do I put food on the table today or do I take a shower? There are people struggling with that decision on a daily basis.”
According to White, anyone with a UConn ID is eligible for the items.
“If you’ve got a UConn ID you’ll be able to participate,” he added. “So that could be staff, faculty, undergrads, grads, affiliates, someone who is affiliated with the university in some way. For now our plan is, show a UConn ID and you’ll be fine.”
White also said that despite some complaints regarding the location of the pantry, Charter Oak Apartments’ community center was chosen based on a variety of factors, including its accessibility to students who might need food the most.
“We’ve heard some pushback on the location and I think one of the things I want people to understand is that we were concerned about access,” White added. “It has accessibility with the bus route, it has ample parking around it. It’s discreet and I want people to understand that this is a judgment-free place. If you want to come in discreetly I want you to be able to.”
Another positive for having the food bank at Charter Oak is that many of the students living there do not have a meal plan, and therefore might need food more than those with a meal plan, according to White.
“The majority of students who live in Charter Oak, unless they bought a meal plan voluntarily, don’t have a meal plan. This has a direct impact on that community there. One of the first definition points for food insecurity is access. We know students who are on the meal plan…have access. We have thousands of people who are challenged by access because they don’t have a meal plan. That’s the group I’m hoping this has a significant benefit for,” White said.