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Rutgers opens food pantry to help students in need

<p>The Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships, located at 39 Union St. in New Brunswick, launched a new private food pantry over the summer in order to help Rutgers students experiencing food insecurity.</p>

The Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships, located at 39 Union St. in New Brunswick, launched a new private food pantry over the summer in order to help Rutgers students experiencing food insecurity.

With the launch of Rutgers' new private food pantry this past summer, undergraduate and graduate students with financial issues now have access to free non-perishable foods and toiletries without having to rely on New Brunswick’s 20 public food pantries.

The pantry, which is one of five at New Jersey colleges, is located and operated out of the Off-Campus Living and Community Partnership building, located at 39 Union St. Roughly 30 students have taken advantage of the pantry so far.

Kerri Willson, director of Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships and director of Student Involvement, said food insecurity is more common than it may seem. 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as "a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways."

Beginning in January, Willson said a survey will be sent out via email to Rutgers students to gauge how many students need access to the pantry. The email will also serve as a way to get the word out about the pantry.

The City University of New York (CUNY) held a similar study in April 2011, and found that 39.2 percent of CUNY students reported they had experienced food insecurity in the past year.

Willson said Rutgers Against Hunger (RAH) and the Sigma Pi fraternity played key roles in starting the pantry and keeping it afloat.

"One of the staff members who was instrumental in starting RAH was retiring, and it had always been a want of hers to create a food pantry on campus for students, and so the board of governors threw some support behind it and we here at student affairs had the ability to actualize the pantry," Willson said.

Sigma Pi took on the pantry as a national philanthropy project last year, Willson said, and they are planning on returning this year to help out more.

“(Sigma Pi) went to Home Depot with us, purchased the shelves, assembled them, picked up our first donation from RAH and stocked the shelves for us,” she said.

The pantry acquires food through donations from organizations like RAH and Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers, who have donated more than 900 pounds of food, Willson said. New students were asked to bring canned food items to first-year orientation, which in total amounted to more than 2,000 pounds last summer.

Amoli Kulkarni, an intern with the Rutgers’ Give Where You Live program, is working with her colleagues to perfect the food pantry system and reach everyone in the community who needs aid.

“I saw a lot of food insecurity when I was volunteering at food pantries in New Brunswick so when the idea came up that there is food insecurity on campus and that we need a food pantry on campus I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni researches other schools that have implemented the client-choice model and works to raise awareness of the food pantry by hosting food drives.

The client-choice food pantry model allows pantry-goers the opportunity to select the foods they want, based on their preferences and needs, as opposed to the non-client-choice model where they are given a bag of predetermined items.

Most people who come into the pantry are referred by a dean, but Amoli said they are shifting the process so any student has unlimited access to the pantry.

Krista Klein, assistant dean of Student Affairs for the Honors College, created her own way to aid the pantry with the help of students.

Klein is organizing the Honors College’s First Fridays program, which urges students to donate one or more food items to the pantry on the first Friday of every month.

By engaging students in a reflection on food insecurity and encouraging pantry donations, Klein said she hopes to move this important issue to the forefront of their minds.

“Our partnership with the Rutgers Student Food Pantry introduces Honors College students to the issue of food insecurity, which hits very close to home for a number of college students,” she said.

Stephen Weiss is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in philosophy. He is a contributing writer with The Daily Targum. 

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