Addressing Food Insecurity, U Opens Food Pantry on Campus

Thanks to generous financial support from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, the Lawrence T. and Janet T. Dee Foundation, and members of the President’s Cabinet, the Feed U Pantry opened in October 2014, first in the Campus Store, and then in a more permanent location on the lower level of the Olpin Union.

A survey conducted in early 2014 by staff at the U’s Center for Student Wellness showed that 51 percent of the 220 U students completing the survey met criteria for being “food insecure,” (meaning they lacked access to quality food) due to financial hardship. As a result, those at the center, joined by staff from the Campus Store and the Women’s Resource Center began a serious discussion about establishing a food pantry on campus. Soon after, representatives from the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) and the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center joined the conversation. Together, they researched what other campus pantries were doing and communicated with food banks. They found that more than 100 colleges and universities in the nation had food pantries.

“Many students on our campus experience food insecurity every day. Ultimately, it makes it very difficult to focus on learning because you are instead focused on your most basic of needs,” says Sandi Pershing, assistant vice president for engagement, and one of the chief organizers of the project. “At various times in my life, I too have experienced food insecurity, and understand personally what that feels like.”

Student volunteer Maria Armenta and manager Nick Knight stock the pantry shelves.

Today, in partnership with the Utah Food Bank, the Feed U Pantry is well stocked. The shelves hold ramen, canned soup, vegetables and fruit, crackers, popcorn, chips, baking mixes, and non-perishable items. Most popular among students are peanut butter, jelly, tuna, pasta, pasta sauce, and cereal. During the summer months, fresh produce is donated by the U’s Edible Garden.

“The balancing act of working and studying can be tough, so having one less worry is always a nice thing,” says one pantry client. She notes that many students don’t qualify for government aid but still find times when money is scarce due to unexpected bills. “A relief from food expenses is greatly appreciated, so a big shout out to those who not only make the pantry possible, but who had a vision and continue to see it through. This pantry is a great resource to the U student community, so thank you!”

The pantry’s schedule is based on the availability of the student volunteers who run it (check for current hours of operation) but is anticipated to be open five days a week. Free food is available to any student, faculty, or staff member with a University of Utah ID. During its two years in operation, more than 1,100 people have benefitted from its resources and nearly 6,000 pounds of food have been distributed.

This spring, the pantry will be renovated to improve the shopping experience and provide space to accommodate upcoming workshops planned around healthy eating and cooking. “We’re always looking for support in the form of food donations, volunteers, and of course, funding to cover the ongoing costs of running a pantry,” says Nick Knight, the pantry’s manager. “We’re grateful for the incredible support we have received thus far, and continue to look for ways to make the pantry more sustainable and accessible.”

In addition to the Utah Food Bank, the pantry’s partners include Chartwells Dining Center, the Campus Store, Center for Student Wellness, the Bennion Center, and ASUU. All donations, no matter how big or small, are appreciated.

To volunteer or make a donation, send email to