On-campus food pantries support hungry students
The small utility closet in Farish Hall, stacked full of ramen, mac and cheese and other goods, is a safe haven for students who struggle with food costs.
The Personal Early Educational Performance Support Pantry is a free food pantry open to students all over campus. The pantry, located in room 128 of Farish Hall, is a resource for those who may not be able to afford food or other essentials.
“When students can’t eat very well, they can’t think very well,” said retention specialist at the College of Education Laura Lee. “And sometimes they end up working more hours to pay bills and afford groceries and things like that.”
A study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that working while attending college hurts disadvantaged students the most.
“We’d much rather see students not have to work five or 10 extra hours and take food from the pantry so they can study,” Lee said.
So far, visitors to the pantry have been mainly from the College of Education. Lee hopes to increase student usage of the pantry in the coming months.
“Visitors tend to be mainly undergraduates, but we do want to make sure the grad students know that it’s open to them,” Lee said.
The pantry is completely donation-based and was believed to be the first of its kind open on campus. Other food shelves, however, do exist. The Urban Experience Program has a food shelf of its own in the Student Service Center.
“I had to ration out when I could and I couldn’t eat,” said education sophomore Ty-Rinetta Sanders-Washington. “The (UEP) food pantry came in handy if I got hungry throughout the day and I didn’t want to waste a swipe.”
According to the Hope Center, nearly 36 percent of university students in the United States suffer from food insecurity, and the University of Houston is tackling this problem one bite at a time.
The Student Government Association voted to pass the Student Hunger Act on Nov. 14. The bill would allow for the creation of a centralized food pantry on campus that would serve UH students, staff and faculty.
“The SGA acquired a free space for it,” said SGA President Cameron Barrett. “Auxiliary Services was willing to pay that rent for free so long as it’s a food pantry there.”
The new food pantry, however, will need additional University approval before it becomes official.
“I think that a food pantry would provide a really good resource for students who need it most,” Barrett said. “There were students who came up to me during the campaign who struggle with food insecurity and housing, even though no candidates were running on it. I think it’s important for us to advocate for those students.”
Students who use the food pantry can find more than just food items there. Aside from the usual non-perishables like microwavable meals, canned vegetables and condiments, students can find a variety of hygiene products. A four-story shelving unit is dedicated to feminine hygiene products, deodorants, soaps and more.
For some students, the PEEPS Pantry is the only resource that meets the demands of their schedules.
“Classes don’t always align with the operating hours of off-campus food pantries,” said an anonymous student who has visited the food pantry regularly in two semesters it has operated. This student did not wish to be identified as food-insecure for the purposes of this article.
Becoming a member is a simple process. On their first visit, students must present their Cougar Card to pantry staff. They will then do an intake and fill out a registration card. For following visits, pantry staff will write down the dates a student has visited.
The College of Education held a soft opening for the food pantry in February 2018 and will hold its grand opening in spring 2019.
“Life without these resources is much more difficult,” said the anonymous student.