Here at the University of Central Florida, we operate under the credo that scale x excellence = impact. Few places is that scale more harnessed than with our Knights Helping Knights Food Pantry. UCF has more than 60,000 students and during 2016-2017 we had to figure out how to support over 14,000 student visits to our food pantry. Operating or opening a food pantry on campus can prove to be an extremely costly endeavor if its creators aren’t able to build sustainable partnerships with shared goals. It has been the campus connections and partnerships that have helped make our food pantry successful.
Knights Pantry partnered with UCF CARES (a mental health and wellness office) and Wellness and Health Promotion Services (WHPS) to raise awareness and increase the functionality and use of the pantry. UCF CARES works tirelessly to ensure that students with food insecurities are connected back to the pantry. When the pantry is closed during break periods, we provide emergency bags that UCF CARES will distribute to students who need it most when student services are unavailable.
Wellness and Health Promotion Services gained notoriety across campus by offering healthy meal prep and cooking demonstrations. With a great concern for student nutrition, it seemed only natural to create a partnership to make sure students knew exactly what their options were if they were going hungry. WHPS now uses food from Knights Pantry for special demonstrations and works with students to show them how they can eat healthy while getting food from pantry. Thanks to the partnership with WHPS, doors were then opened to the UCF Arboretum. Every week, the UCF Arboretum delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to the pantry, amassing in the delivery of more than 1,200 pounds per year. From a health code standpoint, it is far easier to give locally-grown produce away than it is to sell it. Not every campus has an arboretum, but many campuses have garden spaces that might be tied to academic programs.
The pantry’s move to include clothing items as well as food led to creative partnerships with Career Services and Experiential Learning (CSEL) and our Student Government Association (SGA). CSEL is dedicated to helping students gain professional experience and land a job after graduation. To help students feel more confident and look their professional best, CSEL arranges intentional clothing drives with faculty and staff members to help provide students with professional attire. To supplement the donation program, a free rental service was developed with sponsorship from SGA. Now students can also rent blazers in any size, learn how to tie a tie, and look their absolute best for professional headshots or on-campus interviews.
The trick with food pantries – or really any other initiative in a financially strapped environment – is to create opportunities that will impact as many areas as possible.
By wanting to provide students with healthy alternatives, we were able to partner with WHPS, UCF CARES, and the UCF Arboretum to increase education and food supply. A desire for professional clothes for students involved SGA and CSEL and ended up helping students be more competitive for employment opportunities.
Partnerships can have a snowball effect in creating opportunities that seem impossible to come to fruition at the outset. It takes patience and strategic thinking, but with staff who are dedicated to excellence, you can harness the scale of your institution to truly make an impact on your students’ lives.