Hunger comes in many forms, even at the college level. At Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, we are taking the month of October to shine a much-needed light on this issue, while sharing what post-secondary schools are doing to combat it.
Pitt Pantry – From Research to a Real Need
The third part of our College Food Pantry series features the University of Pittsburgh. As one of the most prestigious research institutions in the country, Pitt has a lot to be proud of. The university is home to decorated students, faculty and alumni, from Rhodes Scholars to Nobel Prize winners. Even for a university such as this, hunger still finds its way into the lives of many people within the Pitt Community.
Pitt Pantry was created in 2015 after several students approached then Dean of Students, Dr. Kathy Humphrey, and said they were facing food insecurity. The Office of PittServes worked to create an on-campus pantry offering non-perishable food items.
In 2017, the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development partnered with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Eden Hall Foundation to conduct the Campus Cupboard Study. This needs assessment of hunger on college campuses focused on the southwestern Pennsylvania region and addressed what led students to food insecurity and what their current circumstances were. More on this year-long study and its results can be found here.
“What it told us was that this is an issue, not only in our region but nationwide and on our campus as well,” said Ciara Stehley, Pitt Pantry Coordinator. “We know that this problem exists and we know that we have resources to be addressing food insecurity, but as a campus community, it’s our responsibility to rise to that challenge and make sure we’re addressing student needs in a way that’s proactive and holistic.”
Located in the basement of Bellefield Presbyterian Church near campus, the pantry now offers items like fresh produce, meat and dairy to its guests. Most of this food is purchased from Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
Pitt Pantry operates completely on a volunteer basis and with charitable donations received from individuals and organizations within the community. As part of Pitt Make a Difference Day on October 19, students picked up and sorted donations for the pantry.
“On average, this drive brings in between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds of food. So, for reference, we usually distribute about 20 pounds of food per shopper, so that’s 100 shoppers who are getting food,” Stehley said.
The Campus Cupboard, Stehley said, gave Pitt Pantry volunteers great insight into just how necessary this resource is for students and how they can address that need.
“We know that across the country about one third of all college students are dealing with these challenges of making tough choices around food,” she said. “First and foremost [we are] making sure people know it’s not just your experience and your experience is valid.”
Stehley said many times, students feel as though they do not need the pantry as much as another student and therefore should not use it.
“We’ll have clients who sometimes come in for the first time and say, ‘oh no, I’m not food insecure. Other people need this resource more than I do because they’re consistently going hungry and I usually have enough to eat.’ And our response to that is adequate nutrition is a basic human right. You don’t forfeit that right because of any role you serve within our culture and you certainly don’t forfeit that right in order to be advancing your academic and professional careers,” Stehley said.
Volunteers set up the pantry in a way that makes shoppers feel at ease.
“When someone stops in, we want them to feel like they’re just going through a grocery store and they have someone who is there to help them if they have questions, but we want to make sure that these folks are as empowered as possible to make their own decisions,” Stehley explained.
Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank network compliance and connection coordinators work with each pantry in our network to ensure they are operating safely and effectively.
“I think the Food Bank has been one of our most important partners, especially in the time that I’ve been here,” Stehley said. “We went from being exclusively a nonperishable food provider to a fresh produce provider. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the Food Bank. We wouldn’t be able to provide fresh produce, meat, dairy items…and these are the things our shoppers are consistently saying they want the most and they get the most utility value out of.”
Pitt Pantry also offers household and personal care items as well as resources on nutrition, health and wellness.
“We want to give them the tools and resources they need to take care of themselves and feed themselves so they can focus on being students,” Stehley said.
Pitt Pantry is located at 4001 Fifth Avenue and is open:
- Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. (Produce Days)
- Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Fridays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Appointments are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, email [email protected]