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Items from the Feb. 15 mobile food pantry included fresh produce, dairy, meat, frozen vegetables and more.
Items from the Feb. 15 mobile food pantry included fresh produce, dairy, meat, frozen vegetables and more.

Free mobile food pantry combats food insecurity

Photo by Taurence Chisholm

UD Student Diversity and Inclusion and the Food Bank of Delaware offer free food and personal items to the community

The University of Delaware’s Student Diversity and Inclusion (SDI) program is continuing a University effort to support students and members of the community facing food insecurity.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” In March 2021, the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University released its #RealCollege Survey noting that out of 86,000 national participants, 45% responded that they had experienced food insecurity in the previous 30 days.

“It’s important to remove as many of the barriers as possible for people to be able to access food,” said Rachel Garcia, interim director of Student Diversity and Inclusion. “We know students are experiencing these insecurities and we want to ensure that we are being responsive to student needs so that they feel affirmed and can be successful at UD.”

In response to those needs, the mobile food pantry initiative was created. (Before 2022, the program was guided by the Office of the Dean of Students.) A few times per semester, SDI sets up several stations in Parking Lot 19 with donations from the Food Bank of Delaware to offer free items to students, faculty and staff.

Garcia said the items offered vary depending on availability, but there are always nonperishable products, fresh produce, dairy items and assorted refrigerated and frozen selections, as well as personal products accessible on a first-come, first-served basis.

While the pantry was previously advertised as a drive-through event, Taurence Chisholm, SDI program coordinator, said walkers and bikers are also welcome to grab and go.

“If they come with a car, volunteers will pack their car with the amount of food allotted to each household by the Food Bank of Delaware,” Chisholm said. He added that attendees “walking or biking will be given a bag for the food they want to take with them.”

Chisholm said the feedback from the mobile pantry has been positive so far and that SDI has improved the pantry to make it more accessible for students — like providing reusable bags to walkers and bikers. But the biggest goal is to increase awareness in the UD community and reach those who need it most.

“Students that came were very grateful for the array of items they could find, but we want to increase the number of students that know about this program,” Chisholm said. “We found that many students still had not realized that the mobile food pantry was for them or part of an initiative of the University.”

SDI offers recipes on its Instagram account for students to prepare meals using the items available at that pantry. Additionally, SDI is looking to expand on the goals of the pantry by developing programming to address food insecurity on an individual level.

“We are planning programs like cook prep events in partnership with UD Behavioral Health and Nutrition, where students learn how to prepare cost-effective and delicious meals that are simple enough to make in a dorm kitchen,” Chisholm said. “Programs designed to teach students how to shop for food, where they can find culturally relevant ingredients and how they can substitute for what is available around campus, are just some of the subjects of future events.”

As in the coming weeks and months, SDI will offer more events and resources to help students in need. Currently, the Clothing Coop in room 301 of the Perkins Student Center, is an all-gender career clothing closet providing free professional clothes to UD students.

“We recognize that UD students, as well as staff and faculty, may face financial insecurity, either temporarily or on an ongoing basis, and that we need to be responsive,” said Garcia. “A mobile food pantry is just one part of responding, but it also helps to demonstrate our commitment to the broader Newark community.”

The next mobile food pantry is on Wednesday, March 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Lot 19 (65 N. College Avenue). If you plan to attend, bring your UD ID or a valid driver’s license or State of Delaware ID. Reusable bags are provided to those without cars, but bringing your own bags is encouraged. If you’d like to volunteer to help distribute items, register via SignUpGenius.

For more information on upcoming mobile food pantry events, visit udel.edu/students/intercultural-center/services and follow @udstudentdiversity on Instagram.

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