Expanded food pantry to open in Nebraska Union

Expanded food pantry to open in Nebraska Union
New service launching in January to offer necessities, housing assistance to students

Cody McCain, a sophomore accounting and agribusiness major from Aurora, places donations on shelves in the university's current food pantry. McCain is the coordinator for the food pantry, which is located in the Lutheran Center. The university is opening an expanded food pantry in the Nebraska Union in January.
Troy Fedderson | University Communication
Cody McCain, a sophomore accounting and agribusiness major from Aurora, places donations on shelves in the university's current food pantry. McCain is the coordinator for the food pantry, which is located in the Lutheran Center. The university is opening an expanded food pantry in the Nebraska Union in January.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is expanding upon a national trend of establishing food pantries on college campuses.

On Jan. 9, Nebraska's Office of Student Affairs launches Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry+ in a quiet, third-floor corner of the Nebraska Union. The new facility, managed by the university's Student Money Management Center, will offer food, hygiene and other necessities alongside housing assistance and financial counseling — all for free — to Nebraska students in need of help.

The concept will build upon successes of Nebraska's Open Shelf student pantry, which was launched in 2013 through a partnership between Student Affairs and the university's Lutheran Center.

"There is nothing more sad than watching a student suffer, especially when it comes to issues like hunger and not having a place to live," said Juan Franco, vice chancellor for student affairs. "Huskers Helping Huskers is going to be much more than just a food pantry. It will provide comprehensive services to help those students struggling financially."

In 2013, Nebraska was one of 50 universities that had created a food pantry and were part of the College and University Food Bank Alliance. Today, more than 400 universities are members.

"Student poverty has long been something we joke about, casually talking about things like how students eat ramen noodles," said Adam White, pastor of the Lutheran Center. "But, in recent years, it has become a problem that universities have started taking seriously."

The Lutheran Center partners with the university to provide space for the current campus food pantry. White said the pantry has served about 200 students annually, with a slight increase in recent use.

"When I told a colleague that Nebraska has started a food pantry, it brought him to tears," White said. "Then he talked about how he had to live in his car when he went to school here in 1979.

"Student poverty certainly is not a new issue. But, it is great to see the university take a hard look at how to address it and help people who are at risk."

Results from a December 2015 student survey led to the university's expansion of its pantry program. In the survey, which sought input on the cost of attending school, 2.7 percent of 1,791 students reported that they do not have anywhere to live during summer and school breaks. When polled about food, nearly 29 percent of respondents expressed at least occasional worries about having enough food to eat and 10 percent said they could rarely or never afford to eat balanced meals.

"We were surprised by the number of students who reported they did not have enough money for food at the end of each month," said Megan Scherling, program coordinator for the Student Money Management Center. "Those results were the catalyst for us to rethink and expand the services offered through our food pantry."

The Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry+ will open Jan. 9 in Nebraska Union Room 348. Scherling will oversee the pantry operations with help from a graduate student, an undergraduate intern and other student volunteers.

Hours of operation will be posted outside the pantry and online when finalized. Scherling said the pantry would be open at least 30 hours a week.

"Our goal is to not offer traditional 9 to 5 hours," Scherling said. "We want the schedule to reflect student needs. We'll have a schedule to start, but plan to adjust it as needed."

Along with food, toiletries and other necessities, student workers will provide information on housing options. Brochures and other printed materials on where to go for assistance will also be available. Students who use the pantry can also explore services offered by the Student Money Management Center -- which range from one-on-one financial counseling sessions to online resources.

"We've assisted students with financial troubles in the past, but now we'll have an added resource of being able to walk them upstairs and give them immediate assistance," Scherling said. "Hopefully, by expanding the pantry and moving it into the Nebraska Union, we'll increase awareness of it and get more students the important resources they need to succeed."

Franco said Open Shelf will continue to operate in the Lutheran Center until the new pantry is full established.

Faculty, staff and students can donate directly or organize office/campus drives to collect pantry items. Scherling said all donations can be left at Pantry+ during its open hours or in bins outside the pantry and by the information desk on the north side of the Nebraska Union.

For more information about the Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry+, send email to smmc@unl.edu or call 402-472-9093.