The reviews are in for the Lander University Bear Necessities Food Pantry, and the results exceed expectations.
“Food hasn’t been an issue since you opened. We don’t have to worry about putting money together for food,” said one student.
“It’s too good to be true” was another patron’s assessment, which was followed by a fellow student’s glowing comment, “The Food Pantry is Lander’s greatest invention.”
Information collected between the Food Pantry’s debut in August through December 2020, found that approximately 300 different students were served, the majority of whom were females. Freshmen were the group most likely to utilize the Food Pantry’s services, followed by sophomores. Total visits recorded for the semester amounted to 614, with students living on campus accounting for about 78 percent of the visits.
Lander sophomore Iesha Brown was one of the first to volunteer. A residence hall adviser and healthcare administration major, Brown said the experience has enabled her to meet faculty and staff who pack the bags that are distributed to students and spend time assisting students with food selections.
“This is awesome,” said Brown. “We are the only university of our size in South Carolina to offer this. Students receive bags of staples that we prepare, but also can choose food items that they want.”
Growing up, Brown said her mother worked hard to provide meals for the family. “Food insecurity is a problem for many families. I know what it’s like. It’s an honor for me to be able to give back to the community, and I love that my university is giving students this opportunity. Many students are juggling school and work to get by. The food we give them helps stretch their budgets.”
The idea for the campus Food Pantry began about two years ago when Dr. Boyd Yarbrough, Lander’s vice president for Student Affairs, began hearing stories about the problem of food insecurity on campus. A task force was formed, and a study was done to determine the need for a Food Pantry. The group discovered that nearly 26 percent of the Lander students responding to the study reported not eating for an entire day during the last 30 days. Of those students, 57 percent reported not eating for four days or more during the month.
Dr. Chris Sacerdote, who works with the campus Food Pantry volunteers, said she had been feeding students from her office for years. “I kept granola bars, crackers and peanut butter in my office because students would say ‘do you have food?’“
Finally, when meeting with a colleague, she said, “This is a problem, and it has to stop.”
Sacerdote, an adjunct faculty member in Lander’s College of Education, credits the Lander administration with its determination to bring changes. “Lander has done a good job. Nothing happens overnight, but it did happen as quickly as it could once we focused our attention on it. Even the pandemic couldn’t stop the progress.”
Yarbrough called the Food Pantry “a resounding success,” thanks, in large part, to the Food Insecurity and Housing Security Task Force which plans and operationalizes Bear Necessities. “Many of the volunteers are faculty, staff and students from this Task Force,” he said. “We have laid a solid foundation to address food insecurity at Lander.”
A partnership between Lander and the Food Bank of Greenwood County ensures that Lander’s Food Pantry receives regular deliveries of staple items, such as soups and canned goods, as well as fresh fruit, bread, pastry items and refrigerated meats.
“We could not have accomplished this without the amazing partnership of Wendi Andrews of the Food Bank and the staff,” Yarbrough said. “They have outperformed our expectations at every step of the way. I also attribute our success to the amazing students at Lander University. They’ve responded by visiting Bear Necessities every week and telling their friends about this wonderful service.”
The Bear Necessities Food Pantry will build upon its success for the future. “We will continue to solicit feedback from students regarding our food selection and will do everything in our power to provide the types of food and nutrition that our students desire,” Yarbrough said.
The University also is developing a Clothes Closet for students needing professional clothing for interviews, internships and job opportunities and is adding a subcommittee to study housing insecurities among students, he said.
Bear Necessities is more than food distribution. “We are building a family here,” Brown said. “After I started volunteering, Bear Necessities felt like a home. The people here want to help us.”
The Bear Necessities Food Pantry is open for current Lander students from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Lide Building.