By Grant Smith
As college students immersed in the urban setting of Richmond, there are numerous important budgetary considerations when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. On campus dining options generally comprise the majority of student diets but local restaurants and popular chains are constantly vying for our business. It can be all too easy to break your budget on food, especially when there is often not much of a budget to begin with.
“RamPantry” is VCU’s own student food pantry. Created in 2013 by a coalition of student-faith organizations and the Division of Student Affairs, RamPantry aims to eliminate food insecurity — a lacking or limited access to nutritious foods— within the VCU community. Food insecurity is more common than one might think on college campuses. Based on a poll administered in September of 2014, 57% of VCU students sampled reported that they had gone without food because of a lack of money. Across the country, the number of college campus food banks have skyrocketed from just one in 2007 to 114 in 2014.
Moving into the VCU Student Commons from Baptist Collegiate Ministries at VCU during the start of this semester, RamPantry has seen an increase in use. This new location, found at the end of an overlooked hallway immediately to the right of the Commons Theater, provides convenient and discreet access to the food pantry. Open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, volunteers operate the pantry from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. Available to all students, the pantry encourages those who are food insecure to come once a week to collect a supply of food products.
Upon arrival to the RamPantry, I was greeted genuinely by two student volunteers. They explained that if I wanted to sign on as a new user to the pantry I would have to complete a quick survey. The survey inquires about the state of your food security and fields several demographic questions without being personally invasive. The volunteers explained that RamPantry runs on the honor system and an individual will never be asked to physically prove their state of food insecurity. Beth Ward, a student affairs staff supervisor, arrived and allowed me to peruse their inventory.
There is always a variety of food available at RamPantry, but their inventory fluctuates. Sponsored primarily through Food Lion, a reliable abundance of non-perishable Food Lion products waits on the shelves for the next hungry student. These include canned goods of every sort: meats, vegetables, fruits, and soups; as well as assorted grains, boxed pastas, and cereal. Perishable items are donated by Panera Bread and Shalom Farms— often times fresh bread, fruits, and vegetables will be in stock. A mixed bag of Sauer Spices are available in the pantry for the preparation of your meal and the VCU School of Dentistry donates a supply of oral hygiene products for afterwards. A greater variety of products are also available intermittently following student-run food drives that donate their collections to RamPantry.
After celebrating its one year anniversary in their new location at the start of this semester, RamPantry has proven its success as an essential advocate for student food security. With rising prices of education and the high cost of living associated with urban living, RamPantry is working to solve a significant issue for the VCU community. While the food products and produce available at the pantry are not always the most exciting or mouth watering options, for those in need it can provide a consistent nutritional diet or a much needed supplement to a limited food budget.