Southern Miss’ student-led food pantry ‘a model’ for others
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — The two-year success of the University of Southern Mississippi’s free food pantry is one reason officials with the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi showed up there Tuesday with representatives from colleges and universities in tow.
The Eagle’s Nest, with the help of Hattiesburg’s non-profit Extra Table, offers low-fat proteins, low-sugar fruits, healthy grains and a variety of other items to Southern Miss students, faculty and staff.
The Partnership was at the food pantry because it recently got a grant from the Jewish Response to Hunger group, MAZON, for anti-hunger advocacy.
Langston Moore, communications and community engagement director with the Partnership, wanted to show the schools what a thriving university food pantry looked like.
“It’s a model that’s just perfect in my eyes,” he said. “It’s a model we feel every campus should follow.”
Infiniti Polk wandered into the Eagle’s Nest one day as a freshman and she’s been using it ever since.
“I personally just think this is a really good source of meeting needs on campus,” Polk, now a sophomore, said. “This food pantry is here to help people like me — people who have financial struggles.”
There are only three known food pantries on university and college campuses in Mississippi. The other recognized two are at Pearl River Community College and the University of Mississippi.
Moore believes, however, the Eagle’s Nest is an example for all campus food pantries. Open for four hours Wednesday and Friday, the Eagle’s Nest isn’t a need-based outlet. They also don’t discriminate on the basis of need. Student volunteers staff and organize the pantry.
“The Eagle’s Nest appears to be the mecca of college food pantries,” Moore said. “It’s a remarkable place that is closing the gap for hunger for college students.”
A 2018 survey by Wisconsin’s Hope Lab found 36 percent of university students were food insecure in the 30 days preceding the survey. The year’s estimate for community college students was 42 percent, but a larger 2017 Hope Lab study found 56 percent of two-year college students were going hungry. Research shows food insecurity is often tied to poor academic performance.
“Food is the most basic need you can find,” said Robert St. John, founder of Extra Table. “Survey after survey after survey talks about students who can’t learn unless they’re fed first.”
Astria Goolsby, with Tougaloo College in Jackson, was impressed with the Eagle’s Nest.
“We’re looking to replicate what they’ve got at University of Southern Mississippi, but customize it to fit our demographic — older adults and community members,” she said. “I think it’s well-organized. I love the fact that it’s student-led.”
Mary Robinson, with Jackson State University, asked about labeling, expiration dates, and check-out procedures during the visit.
She hopes to have a food pantry running at JSU by November. She said seeing how the Eagle’s Nest operates has changed her mind about some policies she was thinking of implementing.
“We were actually going to do that students could only come so many times a month,” she said. “But how can you tell students that (restriction), if that’s the need they have?”
Moore was amazed that on Sept. 21, 51 students utilized the Eagle’s Nest and 71 pounds of grocery items were given out.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to duplicate this food pantry across Mississippi,” he said. “Our goal eventually, and I know it’s not a quick fix, is to have a food pantry on every community college and college campus in Mississippi, because (hunger) is a gap that needs to be closed.”
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com