UC Davis welcomed a brand new establishment to campus on January 13 in hopes of helping financially strapped students. But the new UC Davis Pantry is no financial aid center; it is a small room on campus filled with food that is free to UC Davis students.
Senior Justin Gold, 21, and junior Hannah Kirshner, 20, co-founded the Pantry in an effort to provide students in need with non-perishable, high protein food and other basic essentials. The Pantry keeps no record of its visitors and honors a strict no questions asked policy. It is open to any student who shows up to 21 Lower Freeborn in the MU from Monday through Friday between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. with a valid UC Davis identification card, which permits students to take up to three meals per day.
Gold and Kirshner were inspired to head the project when they noticed friends frequently skipping meals due to financial constraints.
“The idea really occurred to me last fall when I saw how many of my friends were skipping meals because they couldn’t afford food,” said Gold. “After doing some research, it was apparent that administrators and other advocates also felt a strong need for something like the Pantry, so we started planning.”
Existing pantries at UC Berkeley, Oregon State, CSU Bakersfield, and particularly UCLA confirmed that the endeavor was possible. Soon after Gold and Kirshner put the project in motion, they came across a study conducted by the UC Davis Director of Student Affairs Research and Information that revealed 76% of students have skipped meals to save money in the past year. It was then that they felt the urgency to get the Pantry up and running.
“The study was proof that this was not just a few isolated incidents or certain individuals that were struggling,” said Kirshner. “It was a widespread issue on campus.”
Gold and Kirshner put in a tremendous amount of effort in order to get the Pantry open for students as soon as possible. The Administration and other campus services including the Campus Advising Network and Counseling and Psychological Services also proved to be extremely helpful.
“Staff support was vital to getting the Pantry open,” said Gold. “It was also important to reach out to different organizations and centers on campus in order to get people to buy into the idea and help with it.”
The Pantry is entirely student run, but has many contributors to thank for its success. Financial donations from the Davis Co-Op, Campbell’s soup from Malt-O-Meal, food from Sprout’s Market, generous food donations from the Yolo Way Frer Center in Woodland, donations from the US Bank, the Women’s Resource and Research Center on campus, Community Relations, and individual contributors were all instrumental in creating the Pantry.
On opening day, the Pantry held roughly 2,000 cans, 200 pounds of rice, 100 bags of pasta, numerous Top Ramen packets, and considerable amounts of peanut butter, cereal, beans, applesauce, nutri-grain bars, beverages, and other non-perishable items.
Within the first week, the Pantry helped nearly 100 students who were struggling to make ends meet. But according to Gold, the Pantry alone is just a quick fix and launching pad for the ultimate goal.
“Ideally, what we’ve created will become an entire educational service that includes teaching students how to eat healthy and provides recipes, resources, and information about how to cook and live well,” said Gold. “We want to promote general healthful living on a budget. It’s something students need to learn.” Of course a no questions asked policy raises concerns that students may take advantage, but Gold and Kirshner have faith in the honesty of the community.
“There’s an inherent risk any time you start a project,” said Gold. “But we are hoping the overall benefit outweighs any negative or dishonest participation.” Workers will notice patterns and trends and won’t hesitate to suggest more permanent outfits to anyone who appears to abuse the resources provided by the Pantry. Although Kirshner and Gold were the masterminds behind the Pantry, they intend for it to continue when they graduate and leave Davis.
“The goal is for the Pantry to be a permanent establishment on campus,” said Gold. “It is established in ASUCD, so hopefully it outlasts Hannah and I for years to come. We promised each other not to open until we were confident it was sustainable enough to last.”
The co-founders hold high hopes for the future of the new campus institution, but the lasting success of the Pantry will depend largely upon donations.
Donations are appreciated and currently accepted in any dollar amount under the Donations section at thepantry.ucdavis.edu. Donors can pay with credit cards or send checks to the Office of University Development at One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616.