Planting seeds to stop the growing problem

Pantry volunteers find new ways to aid financially disadvantaged students

| July 21, 2017

With the cost of college tuition on the rise, an increasing number of students are finding it more difficult to provide themselves the nutrients they need in order to have an active, healthy lifestyle. Food insecurity affects an estimated one-fourth of UNC Charlotte’s population, according Professor Kim Buch. Universities all throughout the United States are trying to find ways to tackle the growing problem.

One of these methods is the Jamil Niner Student Pantry, a space close to campus where more than 800 financially disadvantaged students come to receive free food and clothes.

But student volunteers want to place more nutritious options on the pantry shelves for their classmates who go hungry.

Garrett Lyon was one of these students.

Planting the seed

Lyon described himself as “irked” when he saw the school was having sod put down behind the pantry. Why?

“In my eyes, that was money that could’ve been used to buy food if nothing else, like fresh produce,” Lyon said.

Lyon, now graduated, was working toward his bachelor in Operations and Supply Chain Management at the time.

The supply chain aspect of it, my background, [taught me] how pivotal food is to our everyday lives,” Lyon said.

He thought that, instead of laying sod, they could plant crops on the land and grow produce to be distributed at the pantry.

When the pantry first opened, there were plans to start a garden, but no one had yet to lead the initiative, until Lyon.

He began reaching out to professors with his concerns.

Soon enough, the pantry received funding from TIAA to turn Lyon’s vision into a reality.

The Office of Volunteer Outreach submitted a proposal to the Charlotte Green Initiative (CGI), the student committee that allocates funding for projects that promote campus environmental sustainability. In the past, CGI has funded a graduation gown repurposing project, water bottle refilling stations and skateboard racks. For this project, $4,000 was requested for the construction of raised beds and the purchasing of what was needed.

As a student pantry leader, Lyon said he found that a lot of the UNC Charlotte students who were struggling with food insecurity were international graduate students who couldn’t find work.

“Be aware of the students around you and the circumstances, how difficult it is to go to college in the first place,” Lyon said. “If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, it makes it a lot harder to study and learn on an empty stomach.”

Watching it grow

The garden is just one of the ways that the pantry has expanded services in it’s three years of exsistence.

The opening of the Jamil Niner Student Pantry followed a nationwide boom of food pantries popping up on college campuses. In the beginning, Professor Dr. Fary Cachelin offered space in her Colvard office for the donated items. Shelves were lined with rows of non-perishable food items- applesauce, oatmeal, tuna and canned vegetables. After just one month, the pantry was feeding more than 200 students. But the space was small and privacy became a concern. The increasing client base called for a move.

The Jamil Niner Student Pantry originally opened in a professor’s office. NT File Photo.

Last year, the pantry opened it’s doors at a new location, a small brick house on John Kirk Drive. Here, they started a clothes closet. They now have enough space to teach cooking and nutrition classes.

The garden has been the most recent addition to the pantry, with seeds first sown in April 2016. Volunteers see a variety of ways that the garden could expand.

Currently, there are plans to add more raised beds to the backyard and potentially to the side of the house. The pantry will also have a drip irrigation system installed soon.

Lyon said he thinks the initiative should go campus wide. Since there isn’t enough room for fruit trees in the backyard, he said he’d like to see those types of crops spread throughout campus. The pantry has enough volunteers for this to be a real possibility, he said.

“There are a lot of landscape areas [on campus] that aren’t really being utilized,” Lyon said.

Picking the produce

Only UNC Charlotte students who live off campus and do not have a meal plan may receive service from the pantry. Each client must prove they’re a student with their 49er ID card and sign a food insecurity pledge, stating that they do not have access to regular meals.

The pantry is located at 1224 John Kirk Drive and open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 2-5 p.m. during the fall and spring semester.

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Category:Campus, News

Alexandria Sands Alexandria is the News Editor for the Niner Times. She is a junior Communications major with a double minor in Journalism and Film. Alexandria has reported and taken photographs for The State Port Pilot, The Gaston Gazette and The Shelby Star. She is a graduate of the Academy of Information Technology within Apex High School. You can reach Alexandria at news@ninertimes.com or Twitter.com/alexsands_.

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Alexandria Sands Alexandria is the News Editor for the Niner Times. She is a junior Communications major with a double minor in Journalism and Film. Alexandria has reported and taken photographs for The State Port Pilot, The Gaston Gazette and The Shelby Star. She is a graduate of the Academy of Information Technology within Apex High School. You can reach Alexandria at news@ninertimes.com or Twitter.com/alexsands_.