I think we can all agree that college is far more stressful than what all those shiny brochures advertised. It is a time of intense academic, social and professional pressure. For many students, this pressure is compounded by added stressors that make it even more challenging to live up to our academic potential.
Out of the around 40,000 undergraduate students who call the University of Texas home, an estimated 1 in 4 struggle with food insecurity.
For this reason, Student Emergency Services worked in conjunction with student leaders to launch the UT Outpost in 2018. Today, it operates as an on-campus food bank with the feel of a commercial grocery store, offering both nonperishable and perishable foods as well as access to a “Career Closet” containing professional dress items.
“The reality is that the UT Outpost is a resource for success,” Outpost coordinator Will Ross said. “That’s what we’re trying to get students to understand.”
Since its conception, UT Outpost has adjusted its operation to cater to the needs of students on campus, implementing fresh produce programs this year in partnership with UT Farm Stand and UT Microfarm. It’s also expanded into doing pop-ups on campus in order to, as Ross described it, “meet students where they’re at.”
Led by a five-person student leadership board, the UT Outpost is completely donation-based, relying on community members to remain stocked with food and clothing items. Still, resources are not unlimited. A student can visit once a month and receive up to 20 pounds of shelf-stable goods and as much fresh produce as they want. This year, it has began offering twice-a-month visitations over long summer breaks, a time when Ross says that the Outpost can sustain a “come twice a month model.”
However, this is just one of a few community-led programs attempting to aid the 10,000 food insecure students on our campus, all while relying entirely on donations. According to Ross, with an awareness of the Outpost’s existence growing, “we are seeing semester by semester that usage is trending upwards.”
Since more students are utilizing a much-needed resource, donations to the UT Outpost will have to increase to meet demand, which begs the question, what is the University doing?
The answer: not as much as it should. While it does maintain The Student Emergency Fund, those funds are not used to assist students facing long term food insecurity. The UT Outpost only exists in the first place because students called on the University to implement the program. Furthermore, the Outpost only stays operating to the capacity it does because of continued support from the UT community.
Given the prevalence of food insecurity on this campus, UT should provide more formal support to the UT Outpost, as well as other on-campus food pantries. A resource as important as this one shouldn’t be reliant entirely on donations; additional subsidy from the University could aid in its expansion as students become more aware of its existence, and perhaps even allow for more than single-month visitations. With the University’s endowment totaling $31 billion, I’m sure it is in a more than comfortable enough position to do so.
If you can, please support the efforts of campus resources such as the UT Outpost either by donating to or volunteering with them, and make use of their services if needed. They are truly here to support every student on this campus, and there’s nothing wrong with getting help when it’s needed. This asset was created by students for students, so don’t be afraid to use it.
Rossi is a government sophomore from San Antonio.