On a recent morning, an army of hands neatly stacked shelves, filling them with items such as beans, canned vegetables, loaves of bread, and hygiene products.
The hands belonged to a group of UC Riverside students who were volunteering at the campus’ food pantry, called the R’Pantry. It’s a narrow space that went from being an idea four years ago, to a cross-campus collaboration project that now involves UCR’s Swipe Out Hunger, The Well, Dining Services, and the R’Garden. Staff, faculty, undergraduate and graduate students from across campus also sit in a Basic Needs and Food Insecurity workgroup that provides support for R’Pantry initiatives.
R’Pantry is now primarily supported by the UC-led Global Food Initiative (GFI), which mandates that all 10 UC campuses regularly support students in accessing nutritious food on and off campus. The goal is to alleviate students’ food insecurity at all UC campuses. UC surveys found that 62 percent of UCR undergraduate students reported being food insecure, compared to 42 percent systemwide. Food insecurity is defined as having limited access or an uncertain availability to acquire nutritious food.
A year before the GFI was implemented in 2014, a conversation about needing a food pantry was being led by PODER, a campus group created by undocumented students that is supported by Chicano Student Programs. Among them was alumnus Daniel Lopez, ’16, a linguistics and anthropology major who now works with underserved youth in Denver.
Then, in the spring of 2015, Lopez and a group of volunteers distributed food baskets to 300 students. Today, R’Pantry, located at the Bear’s Den — a space facilitated by ASUCR — and under the direction of The Well, opens twice a week and services more than 300 students a week. This past winter quarter, R’Pantry also opened a smaller operation for graduate students, located in the University Office Building. The grad R’Pantry opens once a week and serves about 15 graduate students each time.
R’Garden is also an active participant. Pantry visitors tend to also take home fresh lettuce, oranges, tomatoes, or any other seasonal fruits and vegetables.
The inner drive Lopez had to help feed his fellow students four years ago is the same impetuous that moves a handful of undergraduate volunteers who are part of Swipe Out Hunger, a club that collects unused meal plan money, or “swipes,” at the end of each quarter from students who live in residential halls. The collected swipes, capped at $5,000 per quarter, end up supporting the R’Pantry with $2,500, and the other half is donated to Feeding America, an Inland Empire Food Bank.
Amit Johanis, a graduating biology major, served as Swipe Out Hunger president this academic year. He was among the group of students who spent about an hour stocking the pantry on a recent morning with food that had been purchased with swipes money.
“I feel like being hungry really limits the potential to learn. It’s not easy to study knowing that you might not know where your next meal will come from. I think everyone deserves to eat, it’s a basic need,” said Johanis while Duane Gornicki, director of Residential Dining and Retail Services, and Bob Getman, Scotty’s C-Stores general manager, also helped push carts filled canned tuna, oatmeal, and jelly.
This academic year Gornicki and Getman began serving as unofficial advisors to Swipe Out Hunger students, and also help place food orders through UCR’s vendors. Once the vendors deliver the food, Dining Services, R’Pantry staff, or students volunteers help refill the shelves.
In attempts to augment the type of food pantry visitors receive, Gornicki said he managed to save cold sandwiches, salads, and kosher meals from going to waste because they are not sold by day’s end at campus Scotty Stores. In order to maintain “fresh” quality standards required by vendors, the food was tossed – although it was not expired. Knowing that, Gornicki pitched the idea of donating the cold sandwiches and other foods to the R’Pantry. On a recent day, 120 sandwiches were donated, and within the first hour, they were all gone.
“We’re doing this in the spirit of collaboration,” Gornicki said. “This also happens to fit with our ‘Zero Waste Initiative’ by 2020.”
Getman, who is quick to admit that the process of supporting a program that feeds students in need has been an eye-opening experience, appreciates everyone’s role in the process.
“It’s been really rewarding to do this. It’s great to see students taking care of their own, we’re just here supporting,” Getman said. “These students think outside the box and they force us to think outside the box as well.”
If you are interested in volunteering in various R’Pantry committees or making donations:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
- R’Pantry wish list: go.ucr.edu/rpantry.