Fulfill Texas, Office of the Dean of Students work together to establish campus food pantry

Katie Keenan

Fulfill Texas, a student organization committed to alleviating food insecurity on campus, is spearheading the formation of a campus food pantry that would provide non-perishable food items to UT students. 

Fulfill Texas co-director Arushi Pandya approached the Office of the Dean of Students earlier this year with the idea for the pantry. Food insecurity, Pandya said, is more common among college students than most people would think.

“There’s actually a significant number of students on campus that don’t have food,” Pandya said. “It was something we felt like we needed to take action on because people come here to study, they shouldn’t be worrying about where their next meal is coming from.”

Associate Dean of Students Denny Bubrig and Student Emergency Services have partnered with Pandya and other Fulfill Texas members with the goal of establishing the pantry by the end of Spring 2017. Once more resources become available, expanding the pantry’s services to UT faculty and staff could be a reality down the road, according to SES director Krista Anderson.

“Piloting the program is going to be primarily focused on students’ food needs,” Anderson said. “We’ve seen … other institutions have broadened their food pantries to faculty, staff, basically anyone affiliated with the University.”

A major concern for Pandya and SES representatives is the issue of stigmatization and whether students seeking food would feel more comfortable if the pantry was in a more secluded location.

“It has to be in a place that’s easily accessible but not super noticeable … it is a sensitive issue and you do want to be respectful of people’s privacy if they are going to use the pantry,” Pandya said.

Since the pantry is still in the planning stages, Fulfill Texas is limiting itself to non-perishable food items such as canned goods, something aerospace engineering sophomore Erin Chung said isn’t necessarily good for students seeking food.

“I’m not sure if it’s actually useful because those foods aren’t that nutritious,” Chung said.

The primary issue lies in funding for the pantry, and although Pandya seeks to eventually store perishable items such as organic fruits and vegetables, making this a reality will take a significant amount of donations and volunteer work.

Both Anderson and Pandya hope to see the UT community rally behind their vision for a campus food pantry by donating to future food drives and dedicating time to manage the pantry itself, an undertaking that will primarily rely on volunteer aid. Several student organizations have partnered with Fulfill Texas to see their dream come to fruition, which has encouraged Pandya to continue moving forward with the project.

As for students who are currently undergoing financial struggles, SES is equipped with a fund specifically made to address shelter, food, medicine and mental health-related needs. Hunger alleviation tends to be the most pressing well-being issue among students, Anderson said, adding that Walmart and HEB gift cards are a primary way through which SES aims to fill this need.

“Sometimes it’s not just food-related needs, it’s also other types of essentials such as toiletries or a change of clothes, so we’re able to be a little more flexible with our gift cards,” Anderson said.