Helping Hands

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Volunteers at UNR’s Pack Provisions food pantry have worked hard to find safe solutions to feed students in need safely, even during a global pandemic, offering services such as grocery delivery

Many hands make light work to help solve UNR’s food insecurity.

Written by Le‘a Gleason
Photo courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno

The challenges of the global pandemic have touched both the world and the Reno-Tahoe community in many ways. And at the University of Nevada, Reno, there’s one particular situation that really hits home: rising food insecurity among the student population.

Food insecurity is defined as not having enough healthy, appropriate food to survive. What many people don’t know is that the challenge of procuring adequate food can be either longstanding or temporary, meaning that a person doesn’t have to go hungry for a long time to be facing food insecurity. This kind of uncertainty can strike a vulnerable college student — one who is already facing mounting bills for tuition and rent — at any time, not only during a global pandemic. Results of an anonymous, university-wide civic-engagement survey completed by students showed that food insecurity at UNR rose from 22 percent of students to 24 percent during 2020 alone.

In hopes of lowering statistics like these for UNR’s students, the university opened Pack Provisions, its food pantry, back in 1993. Today it’s operated by the Associated Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN) Center for Student Engagement and headed by KaPreace Young. Young has worked hard to get the message out there that the pantry exists, and to help students feel comfortable using its services, whether their needs are long-term or temporary.

Young says that UNR’s food insecurity numbers match national trends for the West Coast in general, and unfortunately numbers are even higher in parts of the Southern United States.

To help address the problem, she says, “I try to be a part of conversations, go to workshops, and see what other universities are doing.

“There’s a lot that goes into coming to college,” she continues. “A lot of our children 18 and under are food insecure, and that doesn’t change when they come to college. These students may be living on campus or choosing an apartment with roommates, and those are more fees that are added to the families who have to support them. There are so many more fees that go into [going to college].”

Pack Provisions has continued to grow over the years, from a small stop-by area with non-perishable foods to a full-service center with an industrial fridge and freezer to keep food fresh. Before the pandemic began, it even hosted Mobile Mondays, an event in which pantry workers brought food to locations around campus, and partnered with other service providers, such as the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, to help students receive additional services.

Young explains that there is no income requirement nor an income restriction to use Pack Provisions, and students can come an unlimited amount of times.

“I think when it comes to any basic need insecurity, there is always going to be this internal thought people are facing. They have this image or this thought that ‘somebody needs this more than me,’” Young says. “We try to break down that stigma so that students feel more comfortable using us.”

When the pandemic began this year, Young worked hard to find a solution to still reach students in need. She noticed that a lot of students had to move back home, sometimes far outside of the Reno area. Some of them even began contributing their own incomes to their parents’ households.

Because students were no longer able to visit the facility in person, the Pack Provisions team worked hard to get out into the community and continue serving them. They began with an online request form for food that could be picked up. When students could no longer come onto campus, they began a delivery service.

In addition to this, registered UNR students in need who live far from campus or a delivery area are eligible for a grocery fund, where money is deposited into their accounts to purchase food, as long as they follow certain guidelines and return their receipts.

In order to keep the fund going, community members are welcome to donate by emailing packprovisions@asun.unr.edu.

“We get a lot of support from the community, but I think it’s important for us to continue to build our connections in order to raise awareness,” Young says, elaborating that letting people know about this growing problem is key.

“I think that food insecurity doesn’t have a name or a face. College students are facing food insecurity just like people who [are not] in college. So college isn’t the exception to people facing this insecurity. This isn’t something that on a national level has direct attention. We need something on the ground and the forefront that’s really going to fight this insecurity and bring it to the forefront,” she says.

In the interest of continuing to solve the university’s hunger issue, Young hopes to see that more faculty and staff will let students know that Pack Provisions is there to help, more students will feel comfortable asking for help, and the public will continue to support through donations.

For details, visit Unr.edu/student-engagement/support-services/pack-provisions.

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