Hunger is an issue not typically associated with Neumann University students, but Rina Keller and Mary Beth Davis know differently. Food insecurities have been heightened during the pandemic, but according to Keller, assistant professor of social work and director of field placement, and Davis, counselor at the Counseling Center for Wellness, this need has always existed with NU students.
Keller and Davis submitted a proposal for a Neumann University Resource Pantry to the University Executive Team in February. They listed various statistics regarding food insecurity among college students. Included was data from the 2015-2016 academic year that showed approximately 20 million undergraduate students (31 percent) were in poverty. Additionally, 20 percent of dependent students who relied on family financial support were considered at or below the poverty level.
While specific comprehensive data regarding food insecurity with NU students is not available, there is data showing financial need and therefore potential food insecurity. According to Keller and Davis’ research, out of 1,942 full- and part-time students enrolled in 2020, 39 percent were classified as low income. They also discovered qualitative data derived from other departments at NU that showed students have expressed food insecurity and sought help.
In their proposal for the resource pantry, Keller and Davis listed how this would align with the Neumann University mission.
“Care for the poor and vulnerable was at the heart of the ministries of Saints Francis and Clare. As a Franciscan university, we have the responsibility to emulate the outreach of our patrons who serve those in need without question or judgement. Providing a place for students to safely access basic resources serves our mission by following the Gospel example of Saints Francis and Clare while also modeling the values we wish to impart on our students.”
“We’ve always seen a need on campus and members of the community have provided specific examples,” Keller said of student food insecurities.
“The reality is that there is a need on college campuses and that need is growing. The Wellness Center has been aware that there has been food insecurity on campus for years,” Davis added. “We always had healthy snack food on hand, but we began to see that students were in need of more than just snack items.”
Last fall, Keller and Davis formed a committee to address this issue that included representation from all areas of the university as well as students. A location for the pantry was designated on the fifth floor of the Abessinio building. The model is a convenience store-style of shop where students can get free food and personal hygiene items. The store is called the Knight’s Pantry and it will be open to undergraduate and graduate students.
“The budget and space were approved and now we are moving from a planning stage to a launch stage,” Keller said.
Included in the planning stage was developing relationships with community partners who will donate food and personal hygiene items to the Knight’s Pantry. Five community partners have already committed to this project: Mount Hope Church, Red Hill Farm, Saint Thomas the Apostle Church, Sodexo, and Loaves of Love, a group of five churches in the Garnet Valley area. There are also plans to partner with University Advancement through the Office of Annual Giving to have donors support the pantry.
Both Keller and Davis applaud their deans, Bridget Haines-Frank and Amy Gratch Hoyle, for supporting this effort from the start. The goal is to have this resource open to students in the fall. Future plans to grow this program beyond food offerings include free business clothing for NU students.
“Our vision is that this will be a student-run pantry. We hope student workers and volunteers will take it and run with it,” Davis said.