The Hungry General: A look at the university’s new food pantry

The new campus food pantry gives students the chance to anonymously pick up what they need during the school year and over long breaks

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The Hungry General: A look at the university’s new food pantry

Hannah Denham, News Writer

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One in five college students experiences food insecurity, according to national statistics. What does this look like at a private university, at which one in five students come from family incomes in the “Top One Percent?”

This is a question that students, faculty and administrators at Washington and Lee University have collaborated to answer. Associate Dean of Students Tammi Simpson, Vice President for Student Affairs Sidney Evans and an advisory student group spearheaded the first step through a campus food pantry and more accessibility to dining services during breaks.

The pantry on the third floor of Elrod Commons was opened in mid-December. It includes nonperishable items and packaged foods, in addition to feminine hygiene products and laundry detergent. Students can anonymously pick up the items they need and leave requests for specific items. The pantry itself isn’t monitored and coincides with the university’s honor system, that students will take only what they need.

As of April, students who stay on campus for spring break, Thanksgiving break and February break are able to sign in for free meals through dining services, available every day with limited hours.

The pantry is also open during winter break, and students who stay on campus then would be addressed on an individual basis.

“We think that’s the best way, frankly, because that’s how they can get a full meal,” Evans said.

Evans said the conversation among administrators surrounding food insecurity started with the lack of access to dining services and transportation for students who are unable to go home during the breaks.

A new student organization, First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP), formed during this past summer and is working with the administration. At Washington and Lee, the overall mobility index (the likelihood that a student will move up two or more income quintiles) is ranked last out of 64 other “elite colleges,” according to The New York Times. Only 1.5 percent of students come from families in the “Bottom 20 Percent.”

Taylor Reese, ‘19, is one of the organization’s founders that is leading the efforts to establish the food pantry.

“Our vision was just to give first-generation, low-income students a larger voice on campus and a larger presence,” Reese said. “The food pantry idea came about because we realized hunger at [Washington and Lee] is not something that’s quite talked about very often and people are under the impression that it doesn’t exist, which of course it does. Hunger is everywhere.”

Kiki Spiezio, ‘18, a co-founder of FLIP, said she supports policy changes regarding food waste at catered events and reallocation of meal swipes to supplement a food pantry.

“The food pantry, I think, is a short gap measure but that’s not providing meals,” Spiezio said. “There are so many different events on campus that have food at them and letting students know that they can go to those events and take some food to go or providing Tupperware next to the buffets makes a huge difference.”

Aimée Rodriguez, ‘20, said she appreciates when the school sponsors events with free food.

“As a poor college student, I can’t really pass up free food,” she said. “That’s like a godsend.”

Spiezio, Rodriguez and Reese all voiced support of a program that re-allocates unused meal swipes to students who need them. Swipe Out Hunger is a national nonprofit that was started by a University of California student to coordinate this on college campuses. The Executive Committee, the student governing body at Washington and Lee, sent out a flyer to encourage students to use their leftover FoodFlex money to purchase non perishable donation items for Campus Kitchen. However, there is no current system in place to coordinate this for students.

“If they have extra meals, they should be able to use it for other students,” Spiezio said. “I don’t see the problem in that, especially for other students who are paying for their meal swipes already through their meal plan.”

For students who are struggling to find meals, both Evans and Reese said to reach out to administrators, professors or friends for help.

“[Know] you’re not alone, because it’s definitely more prevalent than people are led to believe,” Reese said.