In 2012, graduate student Michelle Sun and four undergraduates wanted to help fellow students who were going hungry.
At the time, the University of Arizona did not have a campus food pantry for students experiencing food insecurity. In a survey conducted by UA Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, 29 percent of undergraduate students indicated that they often or always skipped meals or ate less because of financial restraints.
“For some students, paying for tuition, rent and books takes precedence over paying for food,” says Sun, who is now co-founder and executive director of the UA Campus Pantry. “It’s heartbreaking to know there are UA students being affected by food insecurity.”
The UA Campus Pantry opened in 2013, holding food distributions for students and staff every other Friday. It was a grassroots operation that involved transporting several hundred pounds of food in donated shopping carts from a tiny storage closet in Yavapai Hall to the Residence Life offices.
“It was arduous work and we looked funny walking across campus with shopping carts full of food, but it was what we were passionate about,” Sun says.
Today, the UA Campus Pantry has a permanent home. The Arizona Student Unions last year donated a space, shelves and a large refrigerator for the group to store and distribute food. Union vendors also regularly donate fresh produce and dairy, which have helped broaden food options.
The Associated Students of the University of Arizona has named the UA Campus Pantry an official student service program.
It is now open every Friday and distributes an average of 1,200 pounds of food to more than 100 students weekly.
The UA is one of nearly 500 colleges across the country to offer a campus pantry, according to the College and University Food Bank Alliance.