Establishing Food Security: It Takes a Village

UC Riverside is helping grow the campus food pantry, R'Pantry, with the support of staff, faculty, and students

UC Riverside’s R’Pantry is growing with cross-campus support. UCR

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. The space started as an idea nearly five years ago and has evolved into a successful cross-campus collaboration between multiple departments. Staff, faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students from across campus participate in a Basic Needs and Food Security 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 in an effort to alleviate students’ food insecurity. UC surveys found that 62 percent of UCR undergraduate students classified themselves as food insecure, compared to 42 percent systemwide. Food insecurity is defined as having limited access or an uncertain availability to acquire nutritious food.

The statistics prompted an immediate response from the campus community. A year before GFI’s launch in 2014, a conversation about the need for a food pantry was being led by PODER, a campus group created by undocumented students and supported by Chicano Student Programs. Today, R’Pantry has moved into a new, larger space and is serving a large population of students. During the 31 days in which food distribution took place during the fall quarter, a total of 1,525 registered as beneficiaries, 288 of whom were graduate students. Winter quarter saw 1,699 students register.

UCR’s community garden, known as R’Garden, has been supplying the pantry with fruits and vegetables for some time. But new funding courtesy of California Senate Bill 85, distributed via the Basic Needs and Food Security Workgroup, has allowed R’Pantry to expand the relationship. R’Garden now has 1.5 acres exclusively dedicated to producing organic seasonal vegetables for R’Pantry. An additional private gift has supplied the pantry with fresh produce every week.

Love for food insecure students comes from all across the campus. Before winter break, UCR’s Transportation and Parking Services department collected more than 2,000 pounds of food with an initiative that asked for nonperishable donations in exchange for parking ticket fee reductions.

Items donated to the pantry saved the staff a weekly shopping trip, leaving R’Pantry fully stocked for students returning from winter break in January, said Devon Sakamoto, director of The Well.

“Seeing departments like TAPS and individuals from across campus recognize food insecurity as an important issue and come together to support our students is such a wonderful thing to see,” Sakamoto said.

Swipe Out Hunger, a club made up of undergraduate students, also supports R’Pantry. UCR

Campus student groups have similarly stepped up to help. Swipe Out Hunger, a club made up of undergraduate volunteers that collect unused meal plan money, or “swipes,” at the end of each quarter from students who live in residential halls, has been supporting R’Pantry with a $2,500 donation.

“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 Amit Johanis, past president of UCR’s Swipe Out Hunger, while Bob Getman, Scotty’s C-Stores general manager within Dining, Hospitality and Retail Services, helped push carts filled canned tuna, oatmeal, and jelly.

During the 2017-2018, academic year Getman began serving as an unofficial adviser to Swipe Out Hunger students, and also began placing food orders through UCR’s vendors. Once the vendors deliver the food, Dining Services, R’Pantry staff, or student volunteers help refill the shelves.

Getman, who is quick to note that the process of supporting a program that feeds students in need has been an eye-opening experience, said he 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.”

In attempts to augment the type of food visitors to the pantry receive, the Dining Services team managed to save unexpired cold sandwiches, salads, and kosher meals from going to waste because they were not sold by day’s end at campus Scotty Stores. In order to maintain “fresh” quality standards required by vendors, the food was tossed. On a recent day, 120 sandwiches were donated; within the first hour, they were all gone.

“Our campus culture of caring and sharing, as demonstrated through our many initiatives to eliminate food insecurity, serve to help ensure that all our students are alert and motivated to perform at their very best,” said Ron Coley, vice chancellor of Business and Administrative Services. “Moreover, our spirit of using all available food resources for their highest and best use, aligns perfectly with UCR’s Zero Waste Initiative by 2020.”

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