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Student run Panther Pantry gives meals to Georgia State students

Homeless and hungry Georgia State students will be able to focus more on their studies and less on food during the school year. The student-run Panther Pantry is open for current Georgia State students to receive free food, no questions asked.

The Pantry opened its doors in Georgia State’s Urban Life building in the former University Print Shop in spring 2015. Georgia State Student Assistance Coordinator Nicole Johnson noticed there are food insecure students, or people who may live near a grocery store, but can’t afford to buy food, according to the AJC.

Diana Parker, Pantry representative and Georgia State nutrition student, said after hearing a friend say she only had rice in her apartment, her eyes were opened to the need for a student food pantry.

“[Panther Pantry] was written as a business plan by nutrition graduate students,” Hopkins said. “They proposed this to the dean of students two years ago, and several months later they used the old printing office as the Pantry.

Currently, the Pantry is operated entirely by students from the Georgia State Nutrition Student Network (NSN). Parker, Lindsey Mikolaicik, and Sohee Ko are the Pantry representatives who manage the Pantry and register the students and contributors. Barbara Hopkins is the faculty advisor for the Panther Pantry, the Department of Nutrition and the NSN.

Georgia State is home to a food desert, or a low-income area more than a mile from healthy food. Families are using food pantries as an alternate long-term solution to food insecurity, according to Feeding America.

A Georgia State sociology major, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she paid her tuition out of pocket, attends classes and lives with her large single parent family. She plans to receive assistance from the Pantry.

“The strain of buying food is starting to get overwhelming,” she said. “I help my mom take care of my siblings, and I won’t be stressed out in school if I don’t have to pay so much for me and my family.”

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Alex Chambers, Georgia State computer science student, said having to balance school and work gets rocky at times, but believes the Pantry is a great idea and beneficial to students.

“It’s a struggle to pay my bills,” he said. “I can take care of myself, but there are others who probably can’t.”

Hopkins said students who receive food don’t have to divulge financial aid information. She also said she hopes other organizations on campus will lend support.

“The Pantry was designed for at-risk students facing financial difficulties and inadequate access to food. We also hope to receive referrals from financial aid and other campus organizations, hoping they will also give us leads on at-risk students,” she said.

Jeffrey Cheek, Georgia State sports administration graduate student, said he has no problem buying food, but sympathized with college students who do.

“Education is important but to succeed in the classroom you have to be able to eat well to stay awake in class and get good grades,” he said.

The Pantry averages at least four students per week utilizing their services, and the staff are bound by confidentiality.

“We don’t ask people’s names or majors, as long as their Panther ID is valid,” Parker said.

The Pantry Representatives said donations should be healthy, non-perishable and unexpired.

“We want the donations to create simple recipes and make the students aware of the nutritional value,” Sohee Ko said.

Darryl Holloman, Georgia State dean of students, said his office’s recent food contribution was also a part of a collaborative effort with Embark Georgia, a statewide initiative dedicated to increasing college access in underrepresented areas in Georgia.

“The message from our office is clear. We are here to support and advocate for our students for successful retention and progression at Georgia State,” he said.

The Office of the Dean of Students plans on contributing in the future. Efforts to further and maintain the Pantry are currently underway, according to Holloman.

“First, we are developing ways that the program can be sustainable and manageable over time. Second, work towards building resources both on-campus as well as off-campus.Third, find methods that help to stabilize the program so that it becomes a consistent component throughout our campus culture,” Holloman said.

Hopkins said one contributor asked for canned goods as her birthday gifts in order to donate to the Pantry.

“There was a woman who heard about it, and instead of birthday gifts, she asked for non perishable foods,” she said.

Diana Parker explained where their inventory comes from, which includes various Georgia State departments.

“We have had several food drives during the summer, and we have a continual supply of donations coming in from Georgia State faculty and other metro Atlanta nutrition networks,” Parker said.

The Pantry representatives and their volunteers all believe helping their fellow Panthers in need is a worthy cause, which will also give them outside experience towards their fields.

“We’re getting real-world experience. It’s valuable to interact with the contributors, students and other administrators involved in the program,” Parker said.

Parker said plans for future food drives are in the works.

“We don’t have any upcoming food drives yet, but we will have a campus-wide drive at some point during the 2015-2016 school year,” she said.

They are accepted Tuesdays from 4-5:15 p.m. Students with valid Panther ID can receive donations Wednesdays 11-12:15 p.m.

“Who better to run a student pantry than nutrition students?” Hopkins said. “Because the food can be…nutritious.”

Donations can be dropped off at the Department of Nutrition on the 8th floor of Urban Life and will be delivered to Panther Pantry, or contributions can be made directly to the Pantry during hours of operation, according to Hopkins.