Rutgers–Camden Food Pantry Serving the Underreported Population of Students Who Need Help

Maria Serra, director of Student Health Services checks items in the Raptor Pantry

Maria Serra, director of Student Health Services, checks items in the Raptor Pantry

By Jeanne Leong

It’s difficult to know just how many college students go without food because it’s a delicate topic to discuss, but nearly one million people in New Jersey – including many college students – are struggling with hunger, according to the hunger relief organization Feeding America.

Food insecurity is a problem that Maria Serra, director of Rutgers–University Camden’s Student Health Services, has seen on campus.

Sometimes students who aren’t feeling well go to SHS and then reveal to the health care professionals that they haven’t eaten because they can’t afford to buy food. “Sometimes they’re too embarrassed to tell us,” says Serra.

A study by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, a research facility at the University of Wisconsin that aims to increase college attainment, found that 71 percent of Pell Grant recipients in their study said they had changed their eating habits and ate less frequently because of lack of funds. Twenty-seven percent said they were eating less than they should or reducing meal sizes. Seven percent of two-year college students said they were going an entire day without food.

At the SHS office on the second floor of the Campus Center, when students say that they’re feeling dizzy, the staff asks what they’ve been eating. Some students say they haven’t eaten all day, or the only thing they’ve eaten is potato chips. “They are essentially eating the cheapest food they can find,” says Serra. “It has starches and salt. It makes you feel full but nutritionally it is not conducive to your brain working well, or with supplying you with what you need to maintain good health.”

The SHS medical professionals often keep granola bars in their desk drawers and hand them out to hungry students.

The staff has directed students to go to nearby food banks, but the banks usually have limited hours of operation, sometimes for just an hour or two, and at times when students are in class. “To make matters worse,” says Serra, “they ask for proof of income, and they have to complete paperwork. Students are already embarrassed that they don’t have food and that they need help.”

A new Rutgers–Camden food bank, the Raptor Pantry, aims to provide sustenance to students, with no questions asked.

Opening on Oct. 3, the Raptor Pantry, located in the Student Health Services office, will offer staples such as pasta, spaghetti sauce, rice, peanut butter, jelly, and canned goods, including tuna and beans.

The pantry will be open Tuesday during 1 to 4 p.m., Wednesday during 1 to 4 p.m., and Friday during 9 a.m. to noon.

Students who are currently enrolled in classes are eligible to use the food pantry by presenting their Rutgers ID. Serra’s office spearheaded the effort to start a food pantry. Finding space is one part of the challenge of starting a pantry. When it opens on Oct. 3, the Raptor Pantry will be housed in the SHS office’s conference room on the second floor of the Campus Center. Through donations from students, faculty, staff, Rutgers Dining Services, Philabundance, the Food Bank of South Jersey, and area businesses, the pantry’s shelves are partially stocked. Donations of nonperishable canned and boxed food items may be made at the Student Health Services office on the second floor of the Campus Center.

The items that are needed most are canned tuna, salmon, or chicken; cereal; nuts and seeds; canned or shelf-stable milk; condiments; dried fruits; tomato sauce; and household items, including soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, feminine products, and shampoo.

For more information about the Raptor Pantry, call 856-225-6005 or email scarlet-raptor-food-pantry@nullcamden.rutgers.edu

 

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