By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
Delta State University has opened a food pantry designed to address the problem of food insecurity among students.
The Statesman’s Shelf is located in a back area of the H.L. Nowell Student Union and will be open Tuesdays and Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. Adjustments will be made for student needs.
All Delta State students may take advantage as long as they have a valid student ID. Transactions are confidential.
At the ribbon cutting this week, Dr. Vernell Bennett, vice president for student affairs, cited a survey of 86,000 students that found 45 percent of respondents reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days.
“Before, our focus was the student’s mental, academic and social needs,” said Bennett. “We’re now also concerned with their nutritional needs.”
After much research, the decision to develop DSU’s own pantry was made.
Food insecurity is when a person has limited or uncertain access to food.
For college students who may be attending school on very limited means, food insecurity becomes a persistent, hidden issue.
Dr. Jana Donahoe, chair of the Department of Social Work, said she had in 2008 who was homeless but didn’t tell anyone, always hanging around events and offering to do jobs for food.
“We needed a pantry in 2008 when the market crashed but we still need a food pantry today because there’s so many students on campus who are food insecure and they don’t tell anybody,” said Donahoe.
Donahoe said food insecurity could affect students academically due to increased feelings of anxiety and depression.
“They can’t concentrate because their tummies are growling, and they are thinking about where am I going to get my next meal?”
Mississippi is one of the hungriest states, with Feeding America reporting that one in every five people struggles with hunger as well as one in every four children.
Donahoe said that the pantry can help address the issues of non-traditional students that may be working a job and supporting a family as well as going to school.
The pantry has no need requirement but Donahoe wanted to emphasize that students shouldn’t look to use it if they can afford not to.
“This is for students who truly are hungry and can’t concentrate, can’t get along in school without food,” Donahoe said. “I hope that our students will be mindful of that and take advantage of it for good reasons, not for their own selfish desires.”
University President William LaForge emphasized the positives of the pantry.
“The fact that there are only 600 or 700 around the country I think is a testament that there is still a need for this to be seen as a need around the country.
“This is the microcosm of (food insecurity). It’s the small, down-to-earth, relevant, now-and-here for our students. It also brings with it a feature of dignity so that those folks who need this can come to the pantry, can come take advantage of the food here without any notoriety, without any stigma, without any concerns.
“Pass the word. Let the word be known that you don’t go hungry on this university campus no matter what.”
Delta State University has partnered with Extra Table, a non-profit organization based out of Hattiesburg to address food insecurity, to help keep the pantry stocked.
Donahoe said that students in Volunteering 101 and 102 would pledge 350 volunteer hours per semester to gather food, raise money and operate the pantry.
Bennett said $9,500 has been raised to support the pantry thus far, with an anonymous Delta State faculty member contributing $1,000 last week.
LaForge pledged a donation of $1,000 of his own, and Howard Glenn of the Essie B. and William Earl Glenn Foundation for Better Living presented LaForge with a donation from his organization.
Bennett said that students have provided the bulk of food donations thus far and that community donations are welcome.
Students will be limited to two of each item but will have a total weight limit of five pounds for their bag of groceries.
Non-perishable foods and liquids will be available as well as disposable dinnerware.