As University of Arkansas - Fort Smith students head home for the holidays, caring staff and faculty members are ensuring those in need will be food secure through the break. Nearly 60 large boxes of food, adorned with festive papers and ribbon, were sent home with students this week, stocked to meet the needs of not only those Lions who requested a box, but their families as well.
Over the past year, the university has proactively aimed to meet the needs of any and all food-insecure students through the Lion Pride Food Pantry and the Grab and Go Sack Lunch Program on campus. “We know that nationwide one in three college students struggles with food insecurity,” explained Dr. Dave Stevens, dean of students. “The Lion Pride Pantry is restocked with close to 60 items each day, and our Grab and Go lunch program has served 578 sack lunches in just three short months. With the holidays coming up, we wanted to help feed our students as well as their families over the holiday break.”
“We understand that food insecurity doesn’t suddenly go away for a student because they’re not attending classes daily,” he continued. “We want to make sure those who need a little help to get through the winter break get that help. While this is a small gesture, it is very emblematic of the generosity of our campus community. We care for each other because that’s what Lions do.”
University Recreation and Wellness Director Meighan Pendergrass, School of Education Advising Coordinator Kim Tomlinson and Stevens built a team of volunteers to pack, wrap and decorate the copy paper boxes last week, and students were able to pick up their boxes this week at the Recreation And Wellness Center.
“We have had a ton of backing from our campus,” said Pendergrass. “The University Police Department provided food collected from their Food For Fines program, student groups have collected hundreds if not thousands of individual items, and all of the faculty and administration on campus banded together in a massive push to raise enough food to supply these boxes to every student who requested one.”
“Our students work so hard to complete classes, work jobs and engage in extra-curricular activities while staying physically and emotionally healthy,” Pendergrass continued, “and this is a natural extension of our work at the RAWC to support wellness across campus. The stress of food insecurity and the obvious physical detriment of hunger deprives our students of the ability to learn effectively, and we are excited to have so many opportunities to help them break through that barrier.”
Any student who requested a box was eligible to obtain one. Students provided their household size through a Google form so the boxes could be adequately packed to supplement meals for their entire family.
Canned vegetables, soups, chili, canned meat, pasta, tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese, hot cereal, and peanut butter and jelly were included in each box, as well as additional donated snacks and meal packs.
“Having the food pantry on campus this semester has provided me with the opportunity to meet with a number of students who are struggling with food insecurity,” shared Stevens. “These are wonderful, hardworking and dedicated students. Many of them are succeeding in the classroom and are reaching for their dreams despite the challenges they’re facing, and the opportunity to help students meet their needs and achieve their goals is extremely fulfilling.”