By JOSHUA STALEY
A new committee has formed to start a new food and clothing pantry on UMW’s campus.
It was started in Dr. Kim Gower’s College of Business leadership and social justice course in spring of 2018 as a group project called “change the world.”
“Part of the project is making sure there is a sustainability component,” Gower said. “So, fortunately, we had dedicated students continue through this fall and spring.”
Student poverty has been gradually increasing over time. Since 2014, the percentage of students awarded a Pell grant, which is a federal grant awarded to students with exceptional financial need, has gone up by 6 percent at UMW, according to vice president for Student Affairs, Dr. Juliette Landphair.
Receiving a Pell grant is typically an indicator of low individual or low family income, with the maximum grant for the 2017-2018 award year being $5,920.
According to a survey published by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, 36 percent of college students say they are food insecure, meaning they are in a state without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Another 36 percent reported they are housing insecure—being without a reliable, stable place to live—and 9 percent reported being completely homeless.
“There are a number of articles I have read recently about college students and food insecurity,” said director of Transfer and Off-Campus Student Services, CJ Porter. “When it all comes together, I think folks realize that we do have students who are in need of support.”
The pantry will provide any student with food, personal care items and clothing for jobs and internships.
The committee—consisting of CJ Porter, Leslie Martin, Laura Wilson, James Pape, Pam Lowery, Rita Thompson, and Gwen Hale—came together early this semester and has been operating in relative silence thus far, gathering items and getting organized. They currently do not have everything they need to fully take off.
“It is an ongoing process that will take replenishing year-round,” said Writing Center and Writing Program director, Dr. Gwen Hale. “This all comes out of the kindness of community members but mostly UMW faculty, staff and students.”
The committee is not far enough in the planning process to assess if students at UMW’s satellite campuses, Dahlgren and Stafford, could use the same assistance. However, they are currently informing colleges at these campuses that this service is available and are not against driving items over when needed. According to Hale, if they find there is a great need in Dahlgren or Stafford, they would be happy to grow the pantry for students there as well.
Students of Dr. Leslie Martin, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, are conducting studies to assess the needs of students on the Fredericksburg campus.
Food insecurity damages a student’s physical health from the lack of stable nutrition, and according to the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, it can also lead to a lower GPA. After surveying 301 students at two community colleges in Maryland, the study found that students who experience food scarcity were more likely to report a lower GPA (2.0-2.49) while students who are food secure were more likely to report a higher GPA (3.5-4.0).
“The hardest thing for people in need can be just asking for help, especially if they feel like the school cannot really help them or doesn’t truly care about them,” said senior English major, Sarah Stephen. “This pantry can provide a stable resource that students know they can always come to. This past week, I’ve seen multiple people come in to donate items for it.”
Hale says they are relying on the community Honor Code for students to not abuse the pantry.
“The committee discussed this, and we would much rather have one student perhaps abuse the privilege and still be able to serve others,” said Hale.
Fully believing in the integrity of UMW students, Hale does not think this will be an issue for the pantry.
The pantry will be unlocked for all UMW students from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and 6 to 9 p.m. on Sundays and is located in the back hallway of the Writing and Speaking Center suite in the HCC, room 429.