Friday morning Dave Stevens, dean of students, pushed a cart filled to the brim with canned and boxed foods down a concrete pathway toward the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Recreation and Wellness Center. Peanut butter, canned soups, granola bars, and Cup O'Noodles overflowed the rails of the cart, ready to meet the needs of students.
The large wooden cabinet named the Lion Pride Pantry stands alone in the greenway between the UAFS Recreation and Wellness Center and the Old Gym along Kinkead Avenue, allowing students to grab a bite to eat at any time. In a packed lobby, dozens of supporters of the pantry applauded as representatives from the Student Government Association, university administration and student support staff cut a ribbon officially signifying the pantry’s opening.
Jordan Dart, president of the Student Government Association, spoke to the crowd, explaining the inception of the idea. “As members of SGA, we’re constantly trying to find ways to make our students’ experience better, to make campus better and to have creative ideas,” she said. “So I’m really happy to be a part of this and thankful to the SGA who came before me who worked really hard on this idea and approved the funds to make this food pantry box possible.”
“A granola bar or a box of ramen noodles can really make a difference to a student who might be struggling or have food insecurity,” Dart added, “And my hope is that, with this pantry, we can test the waters and see if this is something that students can really benefit from and something that we could continue or grow in the future.”
“We take pride in all students, and we want every single student to feel valued, respected, welcomed and cared for,” explained Dr. Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor, who cited national statistics that estimate 20 percent of college students will face food insecurity in a given year.
“For our students with food insecurities, it extends far beyond hunger,” she said. “Students whose stomachs are rumbling can’t pay attention. Students who don’t know where they will get their next meal or whose food is not nutritionally sound or fulfilling are unable to concentrate due to the stress they’re under.”
Riley went on to add the benefit the pantry offers students who may forget to bring money or food one day or who run out while they’re on campus. “This kind of a pantry is a first step to making sure our students know that they are cared for, that they are wanted, that they are respected, no matter what.”
“Truth be known, faculty and staff from across campus for years have been providing students with granola bars, apples and other little snacks to help them get through the day,” said Stevens, looking around the room full of caring supporters. “The Lion Pride Pantry is just an extension of that generosity.”
The UAFS Student Government Association allocated the funds for the initial installation of the pantry. The pantry itself was constructed by woodworker and UAFS associate professor Dr. Erik Carlson. UAFS Advising Coordinator Kim Tomlinson and the staff of the Recreation and Wellness Center will assist in maintaining the pantry, helping to collect donations and keep the pantry stocked.
The box will offer rotations of cereal, crackers, peanut butter and jelly, rice, pasta, canned soups, canned vegetables, tomato sauces, ramen noodles, canned fruits, dry beans, coffee and canned meats.