Catalyst Magazine

Stocking Up: Student Pantry Receives $53,500 in Grant Funding as Demand for Support Rises

Jole’ Ruff, community program specialist, Division of Student Affairs, who manages the daily operations of the Student Pantry, hands out food and other products during a pop-up event this fall. Photo by Angela Jackson

The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) continues to reap grant funding to support the UMB Student Pantry, receiving nearly $28,000 from the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) this fall, just months after getting a $12,000 Maryland Food Bank Food First Capacity Grant.

The MHEC grant, part of the Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program, is the largest the pantry has received. It will be used to strengthen UMB’s efforts to address food insecurity on campus through the continuation of the UMB SNAP on Campus and Hot Eats Fund (UMB SNAP CHEF) program and pop-up events. UMB launched the SNAP CHEF program, which provides a monthly monetary benefit to students that can be used to purchase hot and ready-to-eat food through Uber Eats, with the help of a $13,636 Hunger-Free Campus grant in September 2022.

From November 2022 to August 2023, 49 students participated in the SNAP CHEF program and received a monthly Uber Eats voucher. Because of complex schedules consisting of classes, required experiential education, coursework, studying, and personal responsibilities, UMB students have told Student Pantry representatives that it is not always feasible to prepare food items. The SNAP CHEF program recognizes the complexity of students’ schedules by providing supplemental funding for students who meet the program requirements.

“SNAP CHEF has been one of the most helpful tools UMB has provided me,” said a student who has used the program. “As a student who commutes, works, and has a full-time internship, SNAP CHEF gave me access to meals on days when I felt too burnt out to cook. I knew that my diet and health did not have to suffer.”

Courtney Jones Carney, DPA, MBA, executive director, Intercultural Leadership and Engagement, and director, Intercultural Center, wrote both grant proposals.

“Student hunger in graduate and professional school can be difficult for some to fathom,” she said. “It is an honor to lead initiatives that positively impact students’ experiences at UMB and allow them to fulfill the institution’s mission of improving the human condition.”

She emphasized that grants — and donations — are important for the Student Pantry.

“Grants like this are essential to the operation of the pantry, which is solely supported by grants, monetary gifts, and in-kind donations,” Jones Carney said. “Without funding and products from these sources, it would be challenging to assist the 22 percent of UMB students who have food insecurity.”

Renovating New Home of Pantry

In addition to the grants supporting the SNAP CHEF program, UMB is using the Maryland Food Bank funds to help renovate a storage space on the third floor of the SMC Campus Center that will become the new home of the Student Pantry.

According to Patty Alvarez, PhD, MS, chief student affairs officer and associate vice president, UMB Student Affairs, the renovation will allow the pantry to include an in-person pickup model in addition to the existing online ordering option and pop-up events where prepackaged meal or snack kits are distributed.

The pantry distributes about 1,000 pounds of nonperishable food items and toiletries to an average of 82 UMB students each month. It officially opened in January 2022 but began holding pop-up events in September 2021. Since the pantry launched, the number of toiletries and specialty foods (gluten-free, Halal, Kosher, vegan, vegetarian) available to students has increased due to the generosity of the pantry’s partners at UMB, including the University Student Government Association and UMBrella, Alvarez said.

Jones Carney also said student requests for the pantry have increased significantly since its inception, and requests are expected to continue to rise. The number of student requests between September 2022 and September 2023 increased 73.5 percent. Rising costs for food and hygiene items and a reduction in the eligibility of students for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are contributing factors. 

Support from Partners

Jones Carney expressed thanks to Jole’ Ruff, MSW, community program specialist, UMB Student Affairs, who manages the daily operations of the Student Pantry — including pop-ups — and uses her social work training to provide additional services to students and connect them with resources, including emergency funding available at a school and University level, which can provide support to students experiencing financial hardship.

She also thanked Bill Crockett, MS, RCRSP, assistant vice president, UMB Student Affairs; Jimmy Heiner, MS, director, facilities and operations, UMB Student Affairs; and Ryan Hodgson, MLA, senior grants and contracts specialist, University of Maryland Graduate School, for aiding the grant proposals.

“I’d like to thank Courtney and Jole’ for their excellent leadership of the UMB Student Pantry,” Alvarez said. “We also appreciate the many on-campus and corporate partners who assist us in supporting students experiencing food insecurity. And I’d like to thank Lisa Vuolo, executive director of annual and leadership giving, and her colleagues in the Office of Philanthropy for their support.”

Jen Badie contributed to this article.

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Lou Cortina

Lou Cortina is director of editorial services in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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