By JAMES SAVAGE
LAFAYETTE, La. – Campus Cupboard is a free resource for students and staff who require short-term help to meet their food needs. The pantry began operating in November, but celebrated its grand opening Thursday at 413 Brook Ave., inside the Intensive English Language building.
Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president, used a pair of oversized ceremonial scissors to slice a specially made paper ribbon depicting crossed forks and knives to signal that the Cupboard was open – officially – for business.
“Food security is a student success issue. It’s a retention issue, and a quality of life issue, and one that helps students succeed at greater rates,” Savoie said.
“Students who seek food assistance come from every walk of life, every type of family, and every financial situation. They all deserve help. That’s what a family does. That’s what this Campus Cupboard does as well.”
After the ceremony, visitors toured the Cupboard. Some peered into two storage rooms where canned goods and other nonperishables sat in orderly rows atop a series of chrome-plated steel shelves. There were tooth brushes, sticks of deodorant and other toiletries stored there as well. Like food items, the hygiene products are free to pantry customers.
Dr. Pearson Cross, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, pointed at a side-by-side upright cooler – emblazoned with the iconic Coca-Cola logo – inside one of the rooms. The company donated the refrigerator to Campus Cupboard; it will enable the pantry to offer fresh food items in addition to nonperishables, Cross said.
“This donated cooler is indicative of what’s driven this project from the beginning – community support. We have partners throughout Lafayette and Acadiana, and Campus Cupboard would not exist without members of the University family who also saw a need and were determined to meet it.”
Cross chaired a committee that began planning the Cupboard in late 2017. The panel’s members included representatives from the Student Government Association, Graduate School, the Division of Student Affairs, the Community Service and Sustainability offices, and other administrative units and academic departments.
Community partners include Second Harvest Food Bank, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Sodexo. United Way of Acadiana, another partner, recognized the Campus Cupboard last month with its Luminary Award.
The honor “is given to an organization or coalition that lights a new path in giving, advocating or volunteering,” said Margaret H. Trahan, United Way’s president and CEO. “The award recognizes creative approaches and solutions.” By creating the pantry, the University “demonstrated what proactive compassion can create,” she added.
Since its soft launch in November, Campus Cupboard has helped a monthly average of 50 clients, and distributed an estimated 3,400 items, Cross said. Many items were collected through food drives or individual donations.
Dr. Rose Honegger, UL Lafayette’s associate director of Global Engagement, served on the planning committee. She noted that hunger is a challenge every community confronts.
A 2016 national report indicated about 22 percent of college students in the United States go hungry at some point in the semester. More than 500 American universities and colleges, including several in Louisiana, offer students and staff food assistance.
“This need is not just local and not just on our campus. It’s on all college campuses, and it’s heartbreaking to see,” Honegger said.
Students who face food insecurity tend to choose innutritious options that often cost less than healthier fare, Honegger noted. They’re also more likely than peers to skip, fall behind in or drop courses.
“It’s difficult to concentrate on an essay when you’re hungry,” she said.
Dr. Margarita Perez, the University’s dean of students, echoed Honegger’s sentiments. She was also a planning committee member.
“When students are hungry, when they don’t have what they need, they can’t concentrate and they can’t be learners. Campus Cupboard is one way among many ways that we can ensure our students get to graduation,” Perez said.
Campus Cupboard is open twice weekly, from 2-5 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 9 a.m. to noon on Fridays. Visit studentaffairs.louisiana.edu/services/campus-cupboard for information on how to donate or volunteer.