Food for Thought
Elizabeth Paige, B.A. ’14, a graduate student in the Legal and Ethical Studies program, had witnessed UB students coming to class hungry and stuffing their backpacks with chips and granola bars at campus events. The last straw was when a friend ripped off a mold-covered section of a sandwich and attempted to eat the rest of it. Paige gave that friend some of her dinner, and the pair had a heart-to-heart conversation about grocery routines.
“She would buy cheap pasta in bulk and splurge on an add-in,” Paige explains. “One week it could be peas, one week maybe shrimp. Sometimes food would go bad before she could eat it, and she had no other financial support.
“I realized that those who need help the most are too busy trying to survive to advocate for themselves, and I felt compelled to speak up on behalf of those who couldn’t,” Paige says.
She then developed a petition to bring a campus pantry—a place where anyone with an immediate need can get food and food-security resources—to UB. She brought that petition to the Student Government Association in fall 2013, and the SGA assigned a research committee to the idea.
“We met almost every Wednesday night that semester, writing proposals and doing research and trying to keep it going,” Paige says, adding that she also completed a project on college food insecurity for her history honors project during that time.
In spring 2014, Paige became an SGA senator herself, allowing her to further advocate for the campus pantry. And a year later, the SGA joined with a workgroup of faculty, staff and students and with UB’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy to conduct a campuswide food-security survey funded by a UB Foundation Fund for Excellence grant.
“We found that a significant part of our [campus] population was experiencing hunger,” explains Anthony Butler, M.A. ’02, director of the Office of Transitions and Community Engagement, the unit that now oversees the pantry. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents saw a need for the pantry, and the vast majority of those surveyed were supportive of the project.
From there, the food pantry kicked into high gear. The workgroup and the SGA continued to research best practices, operating procedures and food sourcing, and UB received a Maryland-DC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA position to both manage the pantry and develop a sustainability plan that depends on student, faculty and staff volunteers. The University’s facilities staff repurposed a kitchen on the second floor of the UB Student Center for the project, and the UB community filled its shelves by donating more than 500 nonperishable food items.
On Oct. 18, the doors of the UB Campus Pantry finally opened. “It’s really hard to see your peers having difficulty on their way to earning their degree,” Paige told the crowd that gathered for the ribbon-cutting. “College is hard enough—you shouldn’t have to worry about how you’re going to buy your dinner.”