University City

Niner Student Food Pantry has a larger space to help students in need

Sean Langley, assistant director of off-campus and volunteer outreach for UNC Charlotte, stands next to a couple of food shelves inside the Niner Student Food Pantry on Nov. 12.
Sean Langley, assistant director of off-campus and volunteer outreach for UNC Charlotte, stands next to a couple of food shelves inside the Niner Student Food Pantry on Nov. 12. Marty Price

A sign on the wall next to the shelves of food in the Niner Student Food Pantry reads, “Please take 12 items each visit.”

On Nov. 12, five UNC Charlotte students, with plastic grocery bags in hand, approached the shelves of vegetables and started to select some of the items they would take home to help make ends meet.

Sean Langley, assistant director of off-campus and volunteer outreach for UNC Charlotte, reminded them that there were other items in the other rooms to choose from, as well.

Langley started the pantry with a $6,000 grant from Food Lion, in September 2014. In one year, the pantry served 825 clients, and he feels it is on pace to serve even more in its second year, at its new location.

In October, the pantry moved into a house that originally belonged to the Kirk family, at 1224 John Kirk Drive. The pantry’s first location – one room in the Colvard Building – had limited space with no parking, in the middle of campus.

The new location, on the outer edge of campus, is a house with parking and a surrounding yard that can be accessed by car or on foot, which provides clients with more privacy.

With several rooms and a kitchen, the house will allow the pantry other opportunities. “We want this to be an educational place,” said Langley. Students in the University Professional Internship Program work at the pantry, along with other student volunteers.

Langley said that the pantry also serves to enlighten students about the need to help those who struggle with food insecurity. “This is not a UNC Charlotte challenge, it is a national trend. In the UNC system, 13 of the 17 schools now have food pantries,” he said.

The need for the pantries was driven by the slow recovery from the recession – stagnant wages with continued rising cost of living – coupled with the students not being able to get as much financial aid as in the past, Langley said.

“A lot of our clients are international graduate students. Most people don’t realize that their visas only allow them to work on campus. If they don’t get one of the jobs on campus, that all students compete for, then they have limited resources,” he said.

Langley plans to have nutrition classes and healthy cooking demonstrations when they are able to replace the kitchen appliances. With the additional space, there is also a clothes closet. “For students who struggle with food insecurity, they may also struggle with having the appropriate clothes to wear to an interview. We don’t want them to have to worry about that burden,” said Langley.

There are plans to have gardens planted this spring, in the front and back yards of the property, so that they can supply the students with fresh produce, too. Food Lion continues to donate two pallets of food, twice a semester, with additional food coming from student organizations on campus and donations from the community.

Langley said the only requirements to receive assistance at the pantry are that “you must be a student at UNCC, have no on-campus meal plan, and you have to acknowledge that you struggle with food insecurity.”

Marty Price is a freelance writer: martyprice53@gmail.com

Learn more:

The pantry, located at 1224 John Kirk Drive, is open 2-5 p.m. Mondays and 8-10 a.m. and 2-5 p.m. Thursdays. The pantry is trying to raise money for new kitchen appliances. Donations can be made through the UNC Charlotte Crowdfunding site at https://crowdfund.uncc.edu/project/1098/wall. For information on the Niner Student Food Pantry, go to: http://unccdso.uncc.edu/org/foodpantryprogram

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