A $75,000 Hunger-Free Campus Grant from the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education is helping the Rutgers University in Camden Raptor Pantry keep its shelves stocked for students facing food insecurity. The grant addresses a growing crisis that disproportionately impacts college students, a population whose food insecurity often goes unrecognized. The Raptor Pantry is working to keep students nourished as World Hunger Day is observed internationally on Sunday, May 28, raising awareness of the more than 820 million people living in chronic hunger and encouraging action to bring this to an end.
“Students need access to healthy food to learn, grow, and thrive,” said Daniel Lee, director of the Rutgers-Camden Wellness Center. “This grant allows us to meet the growing demand and launch several new initiatives that will deepen our impact.”
The Raptor Pantry is now able to expand its services and educate the community about how food insecurity impacts to vulnerable and underserved. Most of the grant will fund a new team member, who will focus on building and maintaining partnerships with other hunger-relief organizations, securing donations, increasing awareness of available resources, and introducing new programming.
Operations Coordinator Madrid Moore estimates that the pantry has received tens of thousands of visits since it first opened in 2017. Each week, up to 170 users have access to the selection of staples including eggs, milk, bread, peanut butter and canned goods.
Moore said the COVID-19 pandemic, increased housing costs, and grocery prices have magnified the need for these services. Currently the food pantry is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Moore hopes to add a third day later this year.
“Every week, we get more students,” Moore said.
Two new initiatives are already in the works. A meal-swipe donation program will allow Rutgers students with meal plans to donate their extra swipes, and a commuter dining pass for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-eligible students will create easier access to services.
Moore said Rutgers–Camden’s civically engaged student body and generous alumni have enabled the food pantry to remain stocked throughout the challenges of the pandemic and the resulting global food shortage. A significant number of faculty used the food pantry during their own undergraduate careers at Rutgers–Camden and now incorporate the food pantry in their curricula. This allows students to assist with outreach and donation collection while building transferrable professional skills.
“We want to de-stigmatize the food pantry,” Moore said. “We often hear that students view it as a resource for other people, even if they are struggling with their own issues.” The grant provides a point of connection among hunger advocates across campus and the greater Camden area and encourages them to find continuity in their efforts and to build culture of awareness and support around students’ basic needs.
“One student said to me, at her four years at Rutgers, she never needed a meal because of us,” Moore said. “So even though sometimes I get frustrated that so many people face hunger, I think back to students like that, and it’s all worth it."
Creative Design: Karaamat Abdullah
Photography: Ron Downes Jr.