Student need has led to the creation of OpeN Shelf, a campus pantry that offers basic necessities, from non-perishable food to laundry detergent, to any student.
The pantry, which opened Aug. 26 in the campus Lutheran Center, 535 N. 16th St., is designed to help reduce the barriers for students pursuing a degree at Nebraska.
“Like other universities, we have students from a variety of financial backgrounds. Some have all the funds and support they need, while others are barely making it,” said Juan Franco, vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “Through OpeN Shelf, we are trying to reach out to our students who don’t have resources to purchase basic necessities.”
The creation of student pantries is a trend on college campuses. Today, more than 50 universities and colleges offer some kind of pantry service to assist students in need. Schools that have opened campus pantries in recent years include the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Arkansas, University of Georgia, Utah Valley University, Tennessee State, Austin Peay State and Southern Illinois University. Michigan State University is the only other Big Ten institution to offer a campus pantry program.
The idea that led to OpeN Shelf grew from a discussion about student financial struggles. The presentation included information about students who could not afford to wash clothing or bedding throughout the semester.
Kelli Smith, assistant director for Career Services, left that meeting with a desire to help.
“I believe I am fairly in touch with our students, but do not believe I was fully aware we had students who were struggling to that extent financially,” Smith said. “It just didn’t seem right.”
Through discussions with campus administrators, Smith learned a small, one-time donation would make a minimal impact. At that point, Smith started thinking bigger and reached out to Scott Young, director of the Lincoln Food Bank.
Smith sent a Friday evening email request about the potential of forming a partnership between the university and the local food bank. Young responded favorably at 6:30 a.m. the next day.
“That was the start of our campus pantry concept, and led to several meetings with Scott’s team and various campus stakeholders,” Smith said.
Financial support for the project has been provided by Student Affairs. University Housing, the Lutheran Center, Greek Affairs, Student Involvement, Nebraska Unions and the Lincoln Food Bank have provided additional support.
Megan Rudolph, a sophomore accounting major from Lincoln and a member of the Lutheran Center, was selected to oversee the project during the summer. Rudolph completed the work through an AmeriCorps service project.
One thing I love about this project is that it is an honest reflection of our collaborative and caring nature of staff and students,” Smith said. “The support for OpeN Shelf has been overwhelming. People here at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and in our city care about our students and their success. There truly is no place like Nebraska.”
While housed in the Lutheran Center, the pantry is non-denominational and open to all university students. No forms need be filled out to access the pantry. Any student’s use of the service will remain confidential.
“We absolutely want this to be a service that respects the dignity of our students,” Smith said. “We’ve worked to reduce barriers that could keep students from benefiting from OpeN Shelf. We want them to take advantage of this as often as necessary.”
About OpeN Shelf
OpeN Shelf, located on the second floor of Lutheran Center, 535 N. 16th St., offers students personal hygiene items, laundry detergent and non-perishable food. Fall semester hours are 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Mondays and 2 to 5 p.m. Fridays. Students can send an email to email@example.com to access the pantry by appointment.
Donations of hygiene items, laundry detergent and non-perishable food are accepted. OpeN Shelf also accepts monetary donations through the Lutheran Center or the Lincoln Food Bank.