UMD Campus Pantry prepares to combat food insecurity for Thanksgiving amid pandemic

The Campus Pantry in the University Health Center on March 13, 2020. (Eric Harkleroad/The Diamondback)

By Mira Varghese
For The Diamondback

As Thanksgiving approaches and food insecurity increases nationally due to the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Maryland’s Campus Pantry is continuing to fight hunger within the campus community, trying to ensure that those in need have a meal for the holiday.

Visits to the pantry have increased since the start of the pandemic, said Janaye Dorsey Riley, a student intern at the Campus Pantry. Typically, the pantry would have about 60 to 70 visitors every Friday at its weekly distributions, as well as occasional individual appointments, Dorsey Riley said. But once the pandemic hit, the pantry saw a significant increase in visits.

“Since COVID, and around March and April when it was peaking, there were about 200 people that came to the pantry and we had to open two days a week,” the senior environmental science and technology major said.

The number of visitors has now declined to about 100 per week, but Dorsey Riley said this is still a high number for the pantry.

But despite the increase in visitors, food insecurity has been an issue on the campus before the pandemic.

[Students weigh options after UMD says they can’t return if they leave for Thanksgiving]

A 2019 food access and student well-being study conducted by this university’s counseling center research unit found that 20 percent of students surveyed were food insecure.

As the winter months continue, Dorsey Riley said it’s not uncommon to see an increase in visits to the pantry closer to the holidays.

“[These are] the times when people congregate around food, so it’s important to have it on your dinner table,” she said.

This year, the Campus Pantry will hand out pre-packaged bags of food to students on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but it will be closed the day after the holiday.

And some students are getting involved to help the pantry continue its work.

As part of a service project for the Rawlings Undergraduate Leadership Fellows Program, junior public health science major Mansi Gosalia helped organize a fundraiser with 25 other students to collect money for the Campus Pantry.

[UMD to move all classes online after Thanksgiving break]

The fundraiser will run from Nov. 23 to Dec. 4, with the goal of raising $200 through an Instagram account created for the project.

Ensuring the pantry can supply resources for students is especially important amid the pandemic, Gosalia said.

“Now more than ever, people need to have access to these pantries because everyone’s situation is changing,” Gosalia said. “Nothing’s really set in stone anymore — things are very unpredictable right now.”

Isabella Gordon, a senior kinesiology major and member of service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, said members of the organization are planning to participate in service projects over the holiday, and volunteering at the Campus Pantry is an option.

“Without my environment, without my community, I couldn’t be where I am today, so I think it’s as important to take as it is to give,” Gordon said.

For Gosalia, participating in projects involving the Campus Pantry and giving back in general is necessary to show people that someone is looking out for them, especially during an unpredictable time.

“I mean at the very core of it, it’s really just looking out for your fellow peers, your fellow man, knowing that there’s someone out there that has your back … someone out there cares about you,” she said.

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