By JAMES PRYOR
The Eagle Resource Closet opened on the fifth floor of Lee Hall two weeks into the semester. Operating on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday from 1-6 p.m., the closet is a resource open to all students. Its shelves were stocked in response to a 2018 survey with roughly 600 responses: 22 percent of University of Mary Washington students self-identified as food insecure.
Senior sociology major Jasmine Pope was a main part of the team that helped put together the closet. The team worked closely with Leslie Martin, making sure to stock a variety of resources. On UMW’s Safe Zone Resource page, there is a short list of items recommended to donate for those who would like to assist in keeping the closet stocked. Items such as canned fruit, peanut butter and cereal are requested, but the resources actually found in the closet have a much broader range.
“We have a little bit of everything,” Pope said. “We have bedding and hygiene products, and we have clothing items along with food. We have a lot of different things happening.”
The resource closet is volunteer-run and no tuition funds are used in the effort. The closet is left unattended when open, giving students the option to remain anonymous while using the resource. The only thing asked of students is to fill out a sign-in sheet, asking what day they visited, if they found what they needed and if there was anything else they would appreciate seeing on the shelves.
“Right now we’re in need of fruit options and hardier foods like soups and stews for winter,” Pope said.
Currently, there are two small refrigerators, giving students the option to donate or pick up fresh food.
“We have some cheese sticks and fruit cups,” said Leslie Martin. “We would love to have more fresh options, not just canned foods.”
The resource closet also asks for gluten free and vegetarian options to be donated, so that they continue to have a wide range of food for people with different dietary needs.
However, even with the efforts to make the recourse closet open and welcoming to everyone, many students haven’t heard about it.
“I didn’t know that was a thing at all,” said Lueden Sheikhnureldin, a sophomore English major. “If I had known that was a thing I would’ve gone to it; there have definitely been times where I’ve been hungry.”
Some students only knew of the resource closet for its stock of food, not its entire range of products.
“I didn’t know the Eagle Resource Closet had toiletries like razors and shampoo. I thought it was only food,” said Andrew Schneidawind, a junior digital studies major.
Bucky Goforth, a junior historic preservation major who works with Community Outreach and Resources, advertised the resource closet on COAR’s Instagram page, but said, “I think part of the reason it’s not well known by the student body is because there haven’t been any university-wide attempts to advertise it. The people who know about it, hear about it through word-of-mouth.”
“One of the things that sits on our minds is trying to make the space itself more welcoming,” Martin said. She said that the team working on the closet wants not only to make a helpful recourse, but an inviting one as well, where every student feels welcome. Currently, the closet is roughly the size of a dorm room and organized by category of resources including food, bedding, clothing and toiletries.
“Keeping the shelves stocked definitely makes it feel more comforting, like I’m meant to be there, rather than it being like a secret place to get food only a few students really know about,” said Goforth.
UMW isn’t the only college taking on the project of opening a food pantry. From a Slate article, a study in 2017 that surveyed 43,000 students found that 36 percent of university students were affected by food insecurity. One of UMW’s close neighbors, George Mason University, opened its own version of a food pantry, calling it the Patriot Pantry. Stocking non-perishable food items as well as toiletries, these resources provided to students are bringing up the question, as said by Martin, “Are there ways that we could better help eliminate someone’s need?”
For students looking to get involved with the Eagle Resource Closet, there are positions available for opening and closing the closet, as well as donation organizing and inventory checking.