Hunger is a significant and pervasive problem across American society, especially with the recent economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 54 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020 due to the effects of the pandemic, says the nonprofit group Feeding America.
College campuses are no exception to this national problem, and many students live on a shoestring budget month to month.
“While food insecurity is more widely recognized in our communities, there is less awareness about how college students are affected,” said Ernest Jeffries, vice president for student engagement, who has worked to address food insecurity on college campuses for many years and now brings his vision to MBU. “Unfortunately, college students represent a significant number of those in our nation that are suffering from poverty and food insecurity. Current literature suggests that the rate of food insecurity among American college students is four times the national average.”
According to a 2019 national report on basic needs insecurity among college students from Temple University’s Hope Center, 34% of students at four-year colleges said that they had run out of food and did not have money to buy more, while 44% said they worried about their food not lasting until their next paycheck or other income source.
Thanks to generous support from founding donor Elia Durr Buck ’50 and additional contributors, Mary Baldwin University is stepping up to fight food insecurity on campus.
The university created the new MBU Campus Cupboard to give students and staff members in need access to nutritious food and other essentials, completely free and no questions asked.
“As I heard the personal stories of many MBU students, providing this service was something that I felt would make a difference in the lives of those that we serve,” Jeffries said. “Given that we are living in a very challenging time brought about by COVID-19, this effort is very timely.”
The campus pantry had its grand opening September 17 to begin service, and normal operating hours will be noon to 5:30 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays. MBU health and safety measures are required, including mandatory face coverings and social distancing.
As this new chapter of student-centered support begins, MBU pays tribute to Buck and her children, who funded the capital expense associated with the development of the Campus Cupboard, as well as start-up operations.
“One of the most enduring and anticipated traditions, when I was a student at Mary Baldwin, was Apple Day,” said Buck, who attended Mary Baldwin in the late 1940s and now lives in Pennsylvania. “It was always a surprise, and we would wake up to a note in our cubby canceling classes for the day so that we could go apple picking.
“I supported the creation of the MBU Campus Cupboard to help address food insecurity on campus. I am fortunate to be able to fund the start up of this important initiative and am grateful to learn that other donors have chosen to support it.”
“I am fortunate to be able to fund the start up of this important initiative and am grateful to learn that other donors have chosen to support it.”
— Elia Durr Buck ’50
Operating on the honor system, the MBU pantry will assume that people who visit are there because of genuine need. The university wants to help individuals without the fear of stigma or judgment.
Some students at Mary Baldwin choose not to have a meal plan, or sign up for more limited meal plans to save money. Other students commute to campus for their classes and may experience food insecurity at home.
Located on the first floor of Kable House on the upper MBU campus, the Campus Cupboard is a shopping-style food pantry where visitors can choose what food items they would like to receive from a list of available options. Pantry staff members then assemble food bags, allowing for limited handling of food products.
A partner of MBU Dining Services, A.F. Wendling’s Food Service in Staunton generously donated over $8,000 worth of food to help stock the Campus Cupboard, including chicken, beef, and turkey products, seasonings, olive oil, and coffee, among other items.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the Campus Cupboard, helping bring to life a resource that will serve our MBU community through food and nourishment for many years to come,” said Tracy Hiner ’12, director of dining services, who assisted with project planning and implementation. “I have tremendous pride in where I work and believe there’s no better purpose than to serve those I work with and walk beside daily.”
Extra food items from Hunt Dining Hall and MBU catering services will go toward stocking the Campus Cupboard, as well as products from area food banks, community donations, food donation bins and drives on campus. Offerings will include unexpired perishable and nonperishable foods, snacks, beverages, and toiletry items.
MBU is joining a nationwide effort to help alleviate food insecurity among college students. The College and University Food Bank Alliance, an organization promoting campus food pantries across the country, has more than 700 members, and food banks are part of campus life at James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University, among other institutions in Virginia.