Even as most students in Storrs head to a dining hall for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, thousands more live in off-campus housing or beyond without a meal plan and without a full cupboard.
Places like the Storrs Congregational Church have helped those struggling with food insecurity, and, beginning today, Husky Harvest opens for UConn’s main campus, bringing another pantry to the area and another place for people to turn.
Michael White, executive director of Dining Services, says such an endeavor fits naturally with his department, not just because of its mission to feed those who are nourishing their minds but also thanks to the staff’s knowledge of procurement and distribution to do that in mass.
Husky Harvest at Storrs will operate in much the same way as the Husky Harvest pantries at the regional campuses that have opened over the last several months. A partnership with Connecticut Foodshare is enabling the venture and providing grocery staples with regular deliveries.
“The rollout and expansion of Husky Harvest at the Avery Point, Hartford, Stamford, and Waterbury campuses has been a great success and has led to providing food for hundreds of people affiliated with UConn across the state,” Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Anne D’Alleva says. “Establishing Husky Harvest at the Storrs campus will expand our reach in providing healthy food to our community. Food insecurity undermines students’ ability to focus on their academics and succeed.”
White says the first step to establishing the pantry was finding a location that was central enough to campus, had patron parking, and offered some level of discreetness. Almost fortuitously, the 600-square-foot former convenience store in the Charter Oak Apartments Community Center popped onto the radar.
With a bus stop not far from the front door and located just off Discovery Drive, the space also was ideal because students who live in the Charter Oak Apartments aren’t required to have meal plans and might very well be among those who would benefit the most.
“We wanted a location that would service not only the undergraduate population, but the graduate students, faculty, staff, essentially anyone with a UConn ID,” White says. “That had a lot to do with how we talked about locations.”
Students liked the location in the Student Union of a pop-up pantry that was held in December, but, White says, the availability of space in the building was in question and there isn’t nearby parking. Carrying bags of groceries across campus to a lot, garage, or bus stop just isn’t ideal.
During the pop-up event – organized by Lily Forand ’23 (CLAS), who serves as food insecurity advocacy coordinator for the Undergraduate Student Government – $10,000 worth of food was distributed, and more than 280 students were surveyed on what they would want from a permanent location, White says.
“They want fresh whole fruit and vegetables and things they can heat up that are already made,” White says. “The problem is that Connecticut Foodshare isn’t getting a lot of fresh produce at this time of the year. That might change with the growing season, which is the wrong time for us. We’ll have to see.”
True enough that meals like boxed macaroni and cheese are accessible and easy to prepare. But what would college students do with a can of stewed tomatoes and a bag of beans? That’s where White plans to borrow from Husky Harvest at Avery Point, which asked a staff member to put together simple recipes using ingredients that most often fill the shelves.
Husky Harvest at Stamford offers personal care items, like shampoo and deodorant, thanks to donations. White says Husky Harvest at Storrs expects to do the same, with the help of funding from the Undergraduate Student Government to buy things like laundry detergent, toilet paper, and soap.
“I don’t want to get into the scenario – and I know it happens in life – that someone has to decide between putting food on their plate and taking a shower,” White says. “That’s a very challenging decision for anybody to make. Just being able to take a shower sometimes can really reset your wellbeing.”
White already sees the potential for Husky Harvest at Storrs: a pots and pans collection among faculty and staff, departmental food drives, leftover grab-and-go items from the cafes all destined for pantry patrons. He also can foresee partnerships with some of the University’s existing food vendors.
“I’m talking a lot about all the things this can be and that’s my vision for what it’s going to be at some point,” he says. “For right now, we’re going to ease into this and get it right, and then expand into all of these other possibilities.”
He also wants to react to whatever the first few weeks may bring.
For instance, will volunteer help be long lasting? Will being open two days a week suffice? Should there be summer hours? Will funds need to be set aside to buy staples like peanut butter?
Already, Husky Harvest at Avery Point is spending $80 a week on necessities.
“That’s going to be a hurdle,” White says. “We’re going to have to figure out at what point do I budget more than just student labor to do this. I’m concerned that if Avery Point is spending $80, what are we going to have to spend at Storrs?”
He says he knows that eventually the pantry will take donations, in much the same way community pantries do, and that probably will come over the summer or in the fall. But for the remainder of this semester, he expects to use solely Connecticut Foodshare as the provider just to get started helping people.
“This is no longer a topic that people are afraid of,” White says. “We know that the UConn community will go above and beyond.”
Husky Harvest at Storrs will be open Mondays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Charter Oak Apartments Community Center, 916 Tower Court Road. Anyone with a UConn ID can visit and will be asked to show their University ID and give a name and telephone number. Contributions to the UConn Storrs Campus Food Insecurity Fund at the UConn Foundation can be made online.