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Food Fighters

From left, Dani Wade, Emily Pineda, and Kaishia Ieraci, with their group’s faculty advisor, Melanie Hildebrandt.

From left, Dani Wade, Emily Pineda, and Kaishia Ieraci, with their group’s faculty advisor, Melanie Hildebrandt. Photo: Keith Boyer

Planning a Campus Food Pantry

When Dani Wade came to IUP from Penn Hills in 2016, her idea of a campus food issue was the “freshman 15,” referring to the weight gain of legend among first-year students. Instead, she found something quite different: Some students—her friends included—were going hungry.

The problem is widespread. Research suggests 33 percent of college students across the US face hunger issues. Last year’s Campus Cupboard Study, a University of Pittsburgh survey of more than 6,000 students from 11 southwestern Pennsylvania colleges, found similar results: 29 percent of students in the study reported moderate to high levels of hunger or poor nutrition.

For Wade, that freshman experience was eye opening. Friends would ask to share her meal plan, she said. “When I was driving here with my mom one time, we ended up buying groceries for one of my friends, because she couldn’t afford them.”

More recently, Wade has been addressing the problem on a broader scale. She is part of a student group, Each One Reach One, working to establish a permanent food pantry at IUP.

The group’s effort got a huge boost last fall when philanthropist Terry Serafini ’61 earmarked $30,000 of his annual IUP gift for the food pantry. Serafini, who splits his time between Pittsburgh and Florida, had learned through his charitable work in Pittsburgh about hunger problems on the city’s campuses. He was pleased to find that IUP was already addressing its own food issues.

As he has in past university campaigns, Serafini used his gift to leverage even more support. He offered to triple every student gift of $5 or more—up to $25,000 in matching funds—if 100 members of each class gave to the pantry. By April, students had exhausted that pool. In March, Serafini also provided $5,000 in matching funds for pantry gifts from alumni, employees, and friends.

“In this day and age, people shouldn’t have to go hungry,” he said. “Hopefully we can all do a couple of things to help solve that problem.”

University officials expect to name a location for the food pantry by the fall semester. Meantime, Each One Reach One, under the leadership of Sociology faculty member Melanie Hildebrandt, organized three pop-up pantries to address the immediate need.

“We like the idea of having the pop-up pantry as a model of what the actual pantry will be like,” said Wade, a junior majoring in international business and accounting. “Also, it’s a way for us to help students who might not be here by the time the actual pantry is set up.”

The group served 109 students during its first pop-up pantry last November and nearly doubled that figure, to 215, at its February pantry. A third event was scheduled for late April, also at the new Center for Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement in Elkin Hall.

Each One Reach One is a service program of IUP’s Frederick Douglass Institute. Its roughly 20 members are recipients of scholarships through the IUP Promising Scholars Program, and as part of their scholarship commitment, they participate in one of three Douglass Institute programs during their sophomore year. The other two programs focus on debate and research.

“Students in each group are learning different skills that will enhance their IUP experience,” said Malaika Moses Turner ’95, M’99, D’15, who codirects the Douglass Institute with the Counseling Department’s Sibyl West.

Each One Reach One was formed three years ago, when longtime Douglass Institute director Veronica Watson recruited Hildebrandt as the group’s faculty lead. Students initially wanted to help with hurricane relief in the Southeast or with the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, Hildebrandt said, but they eventually chose an issue closer to home: food insecurity.

“To me, food insecurity is when, at any point through the day, a person has to make a choice as to whether to go hungry or to try to find something to eat,” said Jodie Greene Seybold ’06, M’07, a Food and Nutrition faculty member who researches the topic. “It’s a matter of, ‘Do I allocate this money, time, and effort [for food], or do I choose to spend this money, time, and effort for something else?’”

The problem is common among college students, Hildebrandt said, but also within the general population.

From right, Dominique Young, Taylor Pierre, Justin Cobb, and Gabriel Kuyateh set up food for distribution in February.

From right, Dominique Young, Taylor Pierre, Justin Cobb, and Gabriel Kuyateh set up food for distribution in February. Photo: Keith Boyer

“Just about every campus has students who are food insecure,” she said. “Usually, what you have the most control over is how much you spend on food. You have to pay your bills. You have to keep your electricity on. So, this is common across all groups, too, not just students—the thing you cut back on is food.”

Adding to the hardship, Hildebrandt said, is that some students use their financial aid to help support their families back home.

Both she and Wade noted that even students with meal plans may have limited access to food. Evening classes, practices, and other activities often go past dining hall hours. And at other campus eateries, students’ food choices may use up their meal credits more quickly.

“Then you have to spend money,” Wade said, “and you have only so much.”

In addition to contributions of money and food, Each One Reach One has benefited from the support of many campus partners.

As part of a class assignment last spring, Pao Ying Hsiao’s Public Health Nutrition and Epidemiology students developed a plan for a campus food pantry that accounted for storage, refrigeration, food safety, budget, and staffing.

Across School Street from campus, the Lutheran Campus Ministry and its pastor, Tedd Cogar of IUP’s Student Conduct office, have helped Each One Reach One by storing food in between pop-ups, providing hungry students with food during breaks, and showing members how an existing community food pantry operates.

Members of IUP’s Student Philanthropy Council recognized Terry Serafini ’61 in October.

Members of IUP’s Student Philanthropy Council recognized Terry Serafini ’61 in October. Photo: Keith Boyer

In April, Each One Reach One also collaborated with Sociology faculty member Melissa Swauger ’97 and her students on Hunger Awareness Week events. Members participated in a poverty simulation; helped with the Seedling Project, which gives low-income families supplies to grow their own produce; and added their final pop-up pantry of the semester to the lineup of awareness week activities.

“What I like about Each One Reach One is we’re teaching students how to be visionaries, and then we’re teaching them how to put their vision into action,” Malaika Turner said. “So, they’re seeing something from the beginning: This is what we want to do, and this is the work that it requires. And that is invaluable.”