The on-campus food bank, Cougar Cupboard, is on track to open their new location April 5.
The new destination will replace the old parking office in the University Lofts and will be nearly three times the size of the cupboard’s previous location in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.
“We’re on the first floor of the residence hall, so it’s gonna be a lot more accessible and a lot more visible, which is really, really important to us,” said Jessica Haney, a Cougar Cupboard program manager .
The plan to move was announced last summer and construction started in October. With the first phase of construction finishing ahead of time, the cupboard’s employees have extra time to complete the second and final part of the new location.
“We were told that it’d be ending in February and then they finished right before we got off for break,” Haney said. “It was the best holiday gift.”
Phase one of construction consisted of redoing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to make it more suitable for the pantry’s needs, according to Haney. The improvements included installing an air curtain and changing the electrical wiring to support multiple refrigerators and freezer units.
“It feels like it’s been more tailored for us, which is really nice,” Haney said.
Phase two relies more heavily on the cupboard’s staff. They will be responsible for the finishing touches of organizing the food racks, messing around with floor plans and training new employees.
Aside from size and location, students will also notice that they are now allowed only one visit per week instead of the come-as-you-go method. However, students can still take home up to 30 pounds per week. Haney said she’s seen students even get creative by bringing suitcases and friends to help carry all their extra groceries.
Due to ongoing construction at the Rec Center, the cupboard’s previous location closed last July.
With continuous support from the Houston Food Bank, weekly distributions are continued to be held outside Student Center South.
A grant recommended by the Student Fees Advisory Committee would help provide the cupboard freedom to purchase staple items they might not always receive from their suppliers, such as bread and milk.
Because distributions are currently once a week instead of three to four times per week, Cougar Cupboard 2 or the Personal Early Educational Performance Support Pantry, collaborated with Cougar Cupboard to increase their hours and keep the pantry well-stocked with non-perishables.
“We know that it’s not a perfect solution and that it’s not the same as when we’re open full-time, but we feel like there’s at least some options for students and we also know it is temporary,” Haney said.
Once the main cupboard reopens, PEEPS Pantry will continue to keep everything stocked but will likely reduce their hours.
“Cougar Cupboard 2 will still serve the needs of the students and as we have for the past two years, will continue to collaborate with Cougar Cupboard whenever possible,” said PEEPS director Laura Lee. “It’s a team effort.”
Since opening in 2020, the cupboard has had nearly 7,000 enrollments and before its closure last spring, was seeing 800 visits per week and supplying students with pantry staples, frozen food, household essentials and more.
Any student regardless of income, classification status and housing status can use the Cougar Cupboard. The only requirement is to currently be enrolled in at least one class and to fill out a sign up form before visiting the cupboard.