FLORENCE — Recognizing a rise in student hunger, the University of North Alabama has banded together with nine other universities across the state to address the issue and how it connects with other basic need struggles.
The Alabama Campus Coalition, which began at Auburn University, also includes UNA, Alabama A&M University, Alabama State University, the University of Alabama, Jacksonville State University, Troy University, Tuskegee University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of South Alabama.
Participating universities are tasked with collecting quantitative and qualitative data on what hunger looks like for their students. That data will then be compiled and used to come up with a statewide plan to alleviate the issue.
“We started out as a coalition to address student hunger, and then it got brought up by some of the other universities that maybe it should be considered more of a coalition to address basic needs for our students,” said Bethany Green, assistant director for leadership and volunteerism at UNA. “If a student is hungry, then that likely snowballs into having some additional needs that we might not know about. As a unit, we feel like if we address hunger, then we can start to address some of these other needs.”
Green and UNA Case Manager Holly Underwood are serving as the university's representatives on the coalition.
According to Underwood, UNA has seen a steady increase in the number of students struggling with food insecurity. That often leads to other struggles both on and off campus.
“Food insecurity impacts a student’s ability to focus in the classroom and to complete requirements for class,” she said. “Students can become increasingly worried and consumed by efforts to secure basic needs on a daily basis. Our ability to provide resources for food and other basic needs ensures that our students are given the full opportunity to the college experience, and the ability to be successful both in and out of the classroom.”
Green serves as coordinator of “Feeding the Pride,” UNA’s food pantry program. She said more than 200 students — sometimes closer to 250 — seek help from the food pantry each semester.
“Whether that need is consistent or just a one-time situation, the fact that we’re able to provide a much-needed resource is so important,” she said.
A UNA student started the pantry about seven years ago after seeing the need among her peers. For most of time it has existed, the pantry has served students out of a single location in the Student Engagement Center during regular office hours.
The program has seen a significant expansion this year.
“We realized that we weren’t addressing the needs of students that might only be on campus at night, or that might not always have the opportunity to come to our office whenever we’re open, so we opened a second location during spring break at Rice Hall,” Green said.
Housing and Residence Life volunteers help maintain that location.
A pickup system at Collier Library was implemented in September. Through that, students can grab a prepacked bag that includes information on the pantry locations.
The food pantry is supported through monetary and item donations.
Green said several student groups have helped through food drives, item drives and fundraising efforts. Students also have the opportunity to volunteer with restocking and reorganizing.
Other entities on campus have gotten involved as well. That includes UNA’s Center for Women’s Studies, which provides care items through its “Pride’s Pantry," as well as the Chartwells catering service.
Chartwells can cool down leftover food from campus events, have it packaged and bring it to the campus food pantry.
Anything in the pantry that’s nearing the expiration date is donated to Room at the Table.
“We do have students that utilize Room at the Table as a resource, so we want to be able to kind of blur that line that can sometimes exist between the campus and the community, and be able to support our community as well, because our students are as much a part of that as they are a part of UNA,” Green said.
While the food pantry always accepts donations of any needed items listed on its website, Green said monetary donations are most helpful since they can be used where they’re needed.
Anyone can donate money via cash, check or online payment. Those donations go into a foundation account with the university and are tax-deductible. Aside from helping the food pantry restock, monetary donations will fund meal swipe scholarships for students who need to eat on campus often.
“We’re lucky to operate off of the generosity of others,” Green said. “The more support that we’re able to get, the better. The fact that we can offer this resource is really nice, and it wouldn’t be possible without people paying attention and having some generosity to support it.”