A Cooler Way to Help the Hungry
New, Expanded Campus Pantry Opens With Fridge, Freezer and Food Prep StationsBy Sala Levin ’10 | Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle
The door to better nutrition for Terps in need might just be attached to a commercial fridge in UMD’s new, larger Campus Pantry.
Open since June in the lower level of the South Campus Dining Hall, the pantry now has more room to store and distribute free food and support the Terps who need it, including one crucial feature: refrigeration and freezer space.
The cold storage is “a tremendous ... opportunity for us,” says Allison Tjaden, assistant director of new initiatives in Dining Services. Produce, dairy products and eggs are among the nutrient-rich foods the pantry can now stock for the first time.
The pantry launched in 2014 in a small concession stand in Cole Field House before moving to slightly larger digs in the University Health Center. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pantry operated out of a loading dock outside the dining hall, serving pre-packaged bags to clients.
Since 2014, on-campus surveys have found that up to 20% of University of Maryland students are food-insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to nutritious foods. The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated existing inequities; during the 2019-20 academic year, the pantry saw 8,463 visits—up from 2,422 the previous year, with most visits after the pandemic was declared and many workplaces shut down in March 2020.
This fall, for the first time, the pantry is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., up from two days a week. Fifteen students staff the facility in positions funded by the Student Government Association. (Other support for the pantry comes from individual donors, the Student Facilities Fee Fund and the Student Technology Fee.)
In addition to cold storage, the 2,057-square-foot pantry’s new home in a former salad prep room has a private meeting space where staff can consult with pantry users who might need extra help learning to cook with severe dietary restrictions or budgeting amid financial constraints. A demo kitchen and food prep stations host cooking classes led by Dining Services and Campus Pantry staff.
The kitchen is critical to teaching pantry clients how to make delicious meals with available ingredients, says Tjaden. “Having (the ingredients) is an important part of the battle, but learning how to prepare them is also part of what we want to make sure we’re including in our vision.”
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