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Institute for Public Service Reporting – Memphis


Hunger On Campus: UofM Pantries Meet Growing Post-Pandemic Need

For some, book and tuition costs are overshadowed by finding enough to eat

Nursing student Kayla DeGraphenreed in the doorway of Tiger Pantry, where she has been both an employee and a client. (Marc Perrusquia)

Kayla DeGraphenreed faced a range of financial struggles as an 18-year-old freshman.

Like many University of Memphis students she comes from humble roots, and her pocketbook was stretched thin once she depleted her Tiger Funds campus dining account.

“It was hard to afford groceries,’’ said DeGraphenreed, 20, now a junior nursing student.

Then a roommate told her about Tiger Pantry, an on-campus food pantry where she became both an employee and a client, receiving food supplies and toiletries she could not otherwise afford.

“I really found out about it when I started working here, because I didn’t know that this is a resource on campus and how helpful that it actually is, especially for incoming freshmen who are working and need groceries,” she said.

“It was very helpful. There was one point, my whole freshman year, I did not buy laundry detergent because I always got it from here. That was very helpful because laundry detergent is not cheap.’’

College students from all walks of life often struggle financially, but hardship is particularly acute in Memphis where as many as one in three children grow up in poverty.

For some students, simply getting enough to eat is a challenge. That’s why staff, students and other caring individuals developed a network of food pantries at the UofM, where a corps of volunteers strives to see that no student goes hungry.

Latoya Boyland

“They can choose whatever items they want, so we don’t have any type of system. They’re in need, we won’t turn them down,’’ said Latoya Boyland, administrative secretary for the College of Communication and Fine Arts (CCFA), which runs a pantry open to its students whenever the larger Tiger Pantry is closed.

“There’s no limit at all.”

Yet food insecurity aggravated by the pandemic and its detrimental aftereffects has challenged the pantries’ capacity.

The number of visits to Tiger Pantry has increased by 50 percent over the past four years. Students made 1,924 visits to the pantry in the Maxine A. Smith University Center during the 2019-2020 academic year, according to figures released by Melissa A. Morgan, program services coordinator for the Dean of Students Office. Last year, students made 2,902 visits. So far, during the first half of this school year, there have been 1,336 visits.

“This number is expected to at least double, however I anticipate it will more than double,’’ Morgan said in an email.

Hunger in higher education is not unique to Memphis.

A recent federal study found that nationwide about 23 percent of undergraduates and 12 percent of graduate students experience at least some food insecurity. According to the report by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, more than 4 million students across the nation don’t get enough to eat or suffer homelessness.

To help meet the need in Memphis, Boyland started the CCFA pantry a few semesters ago after a student told an academic success advisor that she couldn’t concentrate in class because she was hungry. Boyland’s goal is to make students comfortable and increase academic performance. That includes not judging or making assumptions about their situations. On that count, Boyland and her pantry colleagues say they receive total buy-in from CCFA faculty and staff, who regularly donate supplies to stock the pantries.

“Our staff and faculty, they donate whenever they can,’’ said graduation analyst Terrell Stanford-Bush, who helps run the CCFA pantry. “We’re here for the students, so we don’t ask anything of them.”

Canned foot items at Tiger Pantry. (Jake Lankford)

The CCFA pantries serve a diverse range of students throughout the school year, including undergrads and graduate school students.

“In the time we’ve been open, we’ve had both undergrad and graduate students come. Sometimes it’s just to make ends meet. A lot of students will get jobs on campus and they just need a little bit to get them to payday. Some of the grad students, they don’t get the same help that the undergrad students get.” Boyland said.

The CCFA pantry is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays – days when the bigger Tiger Pantry is closed or has limited hours.

The Tiger Pantry is split into two distinct areas, one for toiletries and one for food. Students come into the Dean of Students Office to fill out a form listing their needs. Currently, due to high traffic and a limited supply, students are allowed to visit the Tiger Pantry once every seven business days.

-Online financial gifts to Tiger Pantry can be made here.
-Donations of non-perishable food and toiletry items can be dropped off at these campus locations:
* The Dean of Students Office, University Center, room 359.
* The Vice President of Student Academic Success Office, Administration Building, room 235.
* University Center Help Desk, 1st floor.

The Tiger Pantry receives donations from a diverse range of sources, including student organizations and faculty. The Mid-South Food Bank does a weekly delivery for the Tiger Pantry every Thursday.

The pantry’s most-frequent users include international students, students with food insecurities and single mothers who typically utilize both the food and toiletry areas of the pantry.

“I do remember one mom in specific. She comes every chance she gets, she uses our lactation room when she needs to and she was getting our diapers when we had them, formula, canned items. It really is a big help for single moms who are in school as well,” DeGraphenreed said.

As with the CCFA pantry, the Tiger Pantry was started by a faculty member after a student complained of food insecurities. The Tiger Pantry has only grown since then.

“Within the time I started in the Dean of Students Office, which is four years now, we have grown … every year,” said Morgan, the program services coordinator for the Dean of Students Office.

The pantry operators will continue to try to meet that need even during the dark days of winter break when the university is largely shut down. Tiger Pantry has limited holiday hours from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, Wednesday and Thursday. The pantry will be closed Friday. Normal operations will resume Jan. 2.

“Students come every day that we are open, students come when we are closed,’’ DeGraphenreed said. “It’s an everyday thing,”.

Written By

Morgan “Jake” Lankford is a journalism graduate student at the University of Memphis, where he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism. He has written for the UofM student newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, and hosts a show for The ROAR internet radio station here.

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