Food pantry, career closet coming to campus to ease financial pressure on students

Sol Chase

UT-Austin’s Student Emergency Services is seeking to ease financial pressure on students by providing free food and professional attire.

The food pantry will offer free canned and packaged food to hungry students while the career closet will provide gently used professional clothing for students to borrow for job and internship interviews. Both services are scheduled to open May 4 and will be behind the Student Services Building.

“National trends are that there is a need,” said Doug Garrard, the associate vice president for campus life and senior associate dean of students. “One in four students have indicated that they have been hungry, and they couldn’t eat because they didn’t have money.”

Although Student Emergency Services already offers programs to help students with financial need, Garrard said these new initiatives are meant to compliment these efforts. Garrard said they currently have short–term fixes like gift cards, but the new services will be more long–term.

Garrard said there will be no limit to the frequency of students’ visits, making the food pantry an ongoing resource.

Research suggests universities across the country are dealing with similar issues. A study published by the College and University Food Bank Alliance in 2016 found nearly half of all students nationwide reported food insecurity within a 30-day period. 

Many other campuses, including the UT-Rio Grande Valley, have implemented food pantries, and the new program will draw heavily from these examples. 

Chelsea Lopez Loya, a food pantry attendant at UTRGV’s Brownsville campus, said one of the biggest challenges the program faces is the stigma surrounding it, limiting student enrollment. 

“Some students feel ashamed to come,” Lopez Loya said. “It can feel like a handout.”

Some students on campus expressed similar concerns about the emotional impact of taking free food and clothes from a University office. 

“I think I would feel kind of like a charity case,” sociology junior Taylor Needham said. “There’s something to be said for paying $2 for a pair of pants at Goodwill versus taking a handout.”

Garrard said Student Emergency Services is working to minimize the stigma by engaging with students before the pantry opens. One way they’re approaching this is by having students submit a proposed name for the pantry and offering a $250 University Co-Op gift card to the winner of the contest, Garrard said.

The office is also partnering with other departments, local businesses and student organizations to increase the reach of its efforts, Garrard said. 

“For this to be successful and sustainable, we need to make it the fabric of our campus,” Garrard said. “We will continue to tailor the program to meet the needs of our students.”