University food pantry helps students in need
November 13th, 2013
Omaha, NE — More than 15,000 students attend the University of Nebraska Omaha. For these scholars the university provides an educational environment that fosters independent thinking, the opportunity to build long lasting relationships and a shot at making their dreams come true. But for many of them, these milestones are secondary to their basic need for food.
UNO has answered the call by creating the Maverick Food Pantry.
“I think it’s great..any of these services help you get through and do what you gotta do, which is study and prepare and take exams and not have to worry about those basics,” said Dec Larrey, a graduate student in the College of Information Science and Technology.
Dec Larrey discovered the food pantry when it first opened in August. She had recently become unemployed and couldn’t afford food after paying rent, utilities and other bills.
The study “Hunger in America 2010″ states that 46 percent of respondents have been forced to choose between food and utilities; and 40 percent have been forced to choose between food and rent/mortgage.
“The pantry’s genesis was a result a meeting of concerned UNO faculty and staff who started sharing first-hand knowledge of some of our students going hungry. We know in order to focus on goals of success and wellness a person first has to have his or her basic needs met,” said Katherine Keiser, coordinator of the pantry.
Keiser and a group of volunteers have provided 90 bags of food to more than 50 students.
The pantry, located in the Office of Student Life in the Milo Bail Student Center, is open to anyone in possession of a Mavcard, including faculty and staff.
Keiser said confidentiality is very important to the food pantry team. Requests for food bags are made through MavSync. While on the online portal, recipients can decide if they want a standard or vegetarian bag, request special items like coffee and schedule a pick-up time. Recipients receive an email when their bag is ready. All they have to do is show up at the pantry, swipe their MavCard, verify their initials and walk away with two days’ worth of groceries. The bag also includes a list of other resources in the Omaha-metro.
“I was nervous. You know you feel like why can’t you pay for your own food, so I was a little embarrassed,” Larrey said. ”But the people were so kind to me and so discreet. They give you a bag of food and it’s the same sort of bag they give you at the bookstore. And they follow up with you to make sure that your needs were met. If I needed them again I would certainly go that route.”
Keiser said food bags can now be requested twice a week, thanks to donations they received during a reverse trick or treating event held campus-wide on Halloween. The pantry gave out candy in exchange for non-perishable items.
“Because we run entirely on donations what we’re able to give depends on availability,” Keiser said.
Keiser said with the lack of data on college-aged students suffering with hunger, she and her team are hoping to establish what kind of needs exist and how to best conquer them.
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