“We came to realize there were stories of professors providing food where students were unable to get their daily needs met, through either no fault of their own, or running out of money at the end of the month,” said Coffman.
Food insecurity and inaccessibility exist for students, faculty and staff, whether it’s a recurrent necessity or an occasional gap. The causes vary, and no two instances are the same.
Many Newberry College students come from low-income families — 48% of Newberry undergrads receive Federal Pell Grants, which largely benefit students from households earning under $20,000 a year. Even after scholarships, loans, assistance, family contributions and work outside class, students still find themselves having to make ends meet.
“We found that some students ran out of money before their paychecks came, or students were getting refunds and sending them back home to family,” said Coffman. “We also realized there were considerations because of SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]. Their families were on SNAP, but they were not able to get benefits in the cafeteria.”
Other students see food inaccessibility, in which demanding schedules, lack of transportation, or hours of operation conspire to leave gaps in nutrition. For some, the meal plan swipes come up short. And indeed, for some, it comes down to lapses in money management.
“Sometimes, life just happens,” Coffman said.
Newberry College students are not alone. What some have called the “invisible epidemic” is not limited by school, region, or demographics. According to a 2020 study by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, 29% of students at four-year colleges nationwide reported experiencing food insecurity in the last month.
“It is Newberry College’s mission to give students opportunities to succeed, and often times we don’t think about it, but food is definitely one of the tools needed to succeed,” said Coffman.
The pastor soon joined a band of Newberry faculty and staff who began laying earnest groundwork last spring on a campus pantry. The Weber Campus Ministry House offered the space, comfort and discretion necessary, on the near-edge of campus beside Brokaw Hall. What came of it is a collaborative ministry, spearheaded by Campus Ministry and the Student Affairs, which includes the Office of Residence Life.
Over the course of the year, plans have been made, shelves acquired, and goods collected from private donations across campus, from faculty, staff and students alike. The pantry has also entered a partnership with the Living Hope Foundation of Newberry, a community food bank, which now operates in the former Tau Kappa Epsilon house on Nance St., across from Newberry Elementary.
The nonprofit serves at least 500 families each month, collecting donations from businesses and individuals, and distributing drive-through care packages every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Since college students often have limited means by which to prepare meals in residence halls, the range of effective food items is limited by packaging, shelf life and necessary preparation. Any donated goods which students cannot use will be given to Living Hope. In turn, Living Hope has agreed to send goods from which students can benefit. The College will also share financial grants with the foundation, as part of a joint effort to combat hunger throughout the community.
In donations, the Wolves Pantry specifically seeks nonperishable food items that require little to no preparation, and that can be prepared using a microwave. Canned goods should be openable without a can opener. Examples include breakfast bars, cereal, oatmeal, shelf-stable milk and juice, canned or pouched meats, bottled water, crackers, canned nuts, protein bars, fruit cups, chips, and shelf-stable microwavable dinners. The pantry is also collecting school supplies, paper goods, and personal and feminine hygiene products.
With partnerships in place and goods on the shelf, the ribbon was cut on the Wolves Pantry on Sept. 29, before a crowd that included clergy, elected officials, alumni and members of the College community. A Thrivent Action Team provided funds, T-shirts and accessories to promote the event.
But the “invisible epidemic” is invisible for a reason. Setting up the pantry is only part of the battle, Coffman said. Another part is a stigma that sometimes comes with needing and seeking help.
“We know that the need is there, but because of shame, we know that folks are hesitant about asking for help,” said Coffman. “We do know that there was a starter on a team who was sneaking into the cafeteria, until they finally came forward and said they needed some help.
“I’ve found that many people don’t want to ask for help. They would rather just suffer, not be a burden, and so they would rather say, ‘I’ll just figure it out.’ We want to provide a place for folks to be able to reach out and get that help,” he said.
The pantry is open for students, faculty and staff each Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3-6 p.m., with plans being made to expand hours. Donations of time are also greatly appreciated. Contact Pastor David Coffman ’97 or Residence Hall Director Jakqulyn Williams to get involved or to seek assistance.
Donations of food and care items can be left in on-campus collection boxes at Wiles Chapel, Holland Hall and Weber House. Monetary donations will also have a great impact. In rough estimates, $2 provides a breakfast or a lunch, $3 provides a dinner, and $1.50 provides a supplemental snack. Cash donations can be made at this link.