For the first time in its history, Neumann University has opened a food bank for students. The Knights’ Pantry, meant to alleviate food insecurity among enrolled students, began operations on September 8 on the fifth floor of the Rocco Abessinio Building.
“As a Franciscan university, we have the responsibility to serve those in need without question or judgement,” says Chris Domes, Neumann University president. “Providing a place for students to safely access basic resources aligns with our mission and models the values we wish to impart to our students.”
The pantry is currently offering non-perishable food and personal hygiene items to any undergraduate or graduate student with a university ID, no questions asked. When students check in, they are given a small shopping bag and asked to select no more than the bag can hold.
Designed to look like a small convenience store with aisles and rows of shelving, the pantry is open on Mondays (9 a.m. to noon), Tuesdays (3 to 6 p.m.), Wednesdays (noon to 3 p.m.), and Thursdays by appointment.
The concept is the brainchild of Rina Keller, professor of Social Work, and Mary Beth Davis, counselor at Neumann’s Counseling Center for Wellness. They gained university support for the pantry during the spring 2021 semester and will supervise operations at least during the fall. Their goal is that the Knights’ Pantry will evolve into a student-run organization, coordinated by a mix of interns, work study students, and volunteers.
While specific data regarding food insecurity at Neumann is not available, national surveys in late 2020 found that almost one-third of college students (32 percent) face this issue, defined as “having to miss meals for financial reasons or not knowing where your next meal is coming from.” According to the survey data, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem.
“We’ve always seen a need for a pantry like this on campus,” says Keller. “Members of the university community have provided us with specific examples of students who are facing food insecurity.”
“The reality is that there is a need on college campuses and that need is growing,” adds Davis. “The Wellness Center has been aware that there has been food insecurity on campus for years. We always had healthy snack food on hand, but we began to see that students were in need of more than just snack items.”
Keller explains that supporters have provided monetary donations, dropped off food items, and purchased goods from the pantry’s Amazon wish list. “One faculty member donated $1,000, and an outside donor bought us a brand-new freezer,” she recalls.
Five community partners have already committed to support this project: Mount Hope Baptist Church, Red Hill Farm, Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Glen Mills, Pa,, Sodexo, and Loaves of Love (a group of five churches in the Garnet Valley area). Keller and Davis also plan to collect donations from Neumann faculty and staff and to partner with University Advancement to solicit support from donors.