Looking back over the last year, University of Central Oklahoma Volunteer and Service Learning Center Coordinator Eric Hemphill has one word to describe Central Pantry’s growth: “extraordinary.”
In its first month of operation, the pantry assisted just 24 people. In October the number had grown to 740.
The pantry, opened in November 2012, provides non-perishable food and hygiene items to any student, faculty or staff member who is in need. Central students, faculty and staff volunteers manage the pantry’s daily operations.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Low Income Report for 2012-13 found that 26 percent of students in Edmond Public Schools qualify for free and reduced lunches. One in six Oklahomans suffers from food insecurity, a lack of access to enough food. “We knew that food insecurity was a significant problem in our state, and the hope in opening Central Pantry was to potentially remove a barrier that members of our campus community might have to continuing their education,” Hemphill said.
“We stress that the pantry can and should be used for supplemental items. We’ve worked hard to remove the stigma that a food pantry is just for people who can’t afford groceries. They are also for people whose budgets might have them choose between, say, vegetables and ground beef. Central Pantry helps fill in those gaps.”
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, which distributes enough food to feed more than 90,000 hungry Oklahomans each week, helped the VSLC set up the pantry, adding its years of experience in serving the community to the outreach effort.
The pantry has received more than 50,000 pounds of donations since its opening, including donations from area Homeland Stores and from student, faculty and staff-led food drives. A new partnership with the Edmond YMCA may bring fresh vegetables to the pantry’s shelves in 2014 as part of the Y’s community garden initiative.
Brenda Chappell, assistant professor of sociology at Central, has supported the pantry since its inception. Chappell has organized food drives in her classrooms through Central’s Institute of Hope, a faculty-directed, student-run organization that educates the campus about issues of poverty.
“Over the years I have had several students who didn’t have enough food and I have taken them to local food banks,” Chappell said. “It makes me cringe to think about how many more were hungry that I didn’t know about.”
Since opening, the pantry has provided service-learning opportunities for the student volunteers who assist with donation management, inventory and client assistance. The volunteer shifts are typically one to two hours, and all volunteers undergo a mandatory training. For those who wish to help, Hemphill notes that Central Pantry is perpetually in need of canned fruits, vegetables, beans and meats, as well as non-perishable items like peanut butter, jelly, hot and cold cereal, pasta, grains and boxed dinners. Hygiene items like shampoo, conditioner, bar soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine hygiene products and diapers are also accepted. Donations can be dropped off during the pantry’s operating hours, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. It is located in the Nigh University Center, Room 203.
FOR MORE information or to see Central Pantry’s “Year in Review” report, visit www.uco.edu/centralpantry. Those interested in organizing a food drive or fundraiser should contact Hemphill at email@example.com, or call the VSLC at 974-2621.