January 2, 2020

UWS expands campus food pantry in an effort to ensure no student goes hungry

A pilot program with Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank is placing UWS at the forefront of colleges addressing food insecurity among students.

Jeeten Karki traveled thousands of miles from his home in Nepal to attend the University of Wisconsin-Superior. His dream of having a rewarding career in the IT sector motivated him to leave all that was familiar to earn a degree in computer science and mathematics. He knew it would be a challenge financially, but he was confident he could find employment to supplement his budget while maintaining a full course load. And, he did just that, securing a job at the IT Help Desk on campus. There was just one problem. A meal plan was still out of reach, and he often ran short on food in between paychecks.

“I discovered the Yellowjacket Food Pantry on campus when one of my friends started working there,” he said. “I was so happy to find out I was eligible to use it because I don’t have a meal plan. Now, I go once or twice a week and get things like rice, beans, canned vegetables and snacks. It’s made a huge difference.”

A nation-wide problem

Jeeten is not alone. A 2018 survey of 43,000 students at 66 institutions in 20 states by the Wisconsin Hope Lab* revealed that 36 percent were food insecure in the 30 days preceding the survey, and underrepresented minority and international students are disproportionately affected. This has resulted in many universities taking action to address hunger issues for its students, with UW-Superior among those leading the way.

“Part of our mission in Student Affairs is to provide services that help foster personal growth and social awareness,” said Harry Anderson, dean of students. “We know the impact and barrier to success that a food insecurity can have on a student’s life both in and out of the classroom. The Yellowjacket Pantry is an effort to remove that barrier.”

While UW-Superior has had an on-campus food pantry since 2014, it was recently expanded through a pilot program with Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank (SHNLFB), significantly increasing the amount and variety of food items available to students. The initiative began when UW-Extension identified an increase in food pantries at college campuses throughout the country – from 12 known pantries in the U.S. in 2012 to 590 in 2018. That data prompted university leaders to take a look at how UW-Superior was addressing hunger for its students and what more could be done.

An invaluable partner

As luck would have it, the university had an invaluable partner to help devise a more sustainable plan. Shaye Moris (’94 individualized major) is the executive director of SHNLFB and president of the UW-Superior Foundation Board of Directors. When UW-Extension convened all of the UW’s campus pantry coordinators, Shaye was at the table and recognized the opportunity for an impactful partnership.

“This is a great example of UWS working with the community to bring resources to its students,” she said. “It’s a win-win for both of us.”

SHNLFB worked with Jen Bird, the Yellowjacket pantry coordinator, to determine what items students would use and enjoy, and deliver pallets of food rescued from retail stores and food manufacturers. As of March this year, SHNLFB had delivered 1,260 pounds of food, which equates to just over 1,000 meals.

According to Moris, UW-Superior is the first college or university that SHNLFB is currently supplying. “UWS is coming forward and saying, ‘Our students have encountered a problem and we’re going to do everything we can to solve it,’” said Moris. “I’m proud of my alma mater for taking a proactive approach and raising the bar on finding a sustainable solution.”

A campus community that cares

Jeeten has introduced other students to the Yellowjacket Food Pantry and said it’s helping bridge the gap and providing the help some students need to make ends meet. “UWS has always felt like home and everyone here is very helpful and caring. This is yet another example of what the university does to help meet the needs of its students,” he said.

Moris said many students don’t even realize they have a hunger problem because they think it’s just the way it is when you’re a ‘poor college student,’ but it doesn’t have to be that way, and shouldn’t be.

“It gives me great pride to go home every night and know I played a role in feeding people,” she said. “It’s important to realize that most people who use food shelves are just like you and me. Most of us are just one unfortunate event away from needing help ourselves.”

Moris said she hopes to be part of continuing to find solutions to barriers students might encounter to earning a college degree in the future. Her role on the Foundation board will give her many opportunities to benefit the university and its students.

“I love this university and all that it did for me,” she said. “I hope to give back to the campus and students in any way I can.”

*Wisconsin Hope Lab, “Still Hungry and Homeless in College,” April 2018

In addition to the food provided by Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, the Yellowjacket Food Pantry relies on donations of food and funds from community members. Donations may be made by in person or via mail to the UW-Superior Foundation at Old Main 237, P.O. Box 2000, Superior, WI 54880, or online at uwsuper.edu/donate (Please select ‘other’ for the designation and indicate “Yellowjacket Food Pantry.”)

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