GW’s food pantry is looking to become a model for other universities trying to tackle the growing problem of food insecurity.
The Store, the University’s student-run food pantry, gave tours to six universities over the past year to show off the space and teach other schools the necessary steps to jump-start a college food pantry. Tim Miller, the associate dean of students who oversees The Store’s outreach efforts, said the tours are a way to give back to schools and give GW a prominent voice in the growing movement to ensure students have enough to eat.
“I’ve done phone calls, I’ve done visits, I’ve done whatever because I think this is too important of a thing to not share what we’ve learned,” he said. “Everyone should know that this is an issue on your campus, and figure out what your best intervention is. Ours right now is a food pantry.”
Miller said about 26 schools have reached out to The Store with requests to tour and scope out the pantry’s setup over the past 18 months. About six universities, including the University of Maryland and Temple University, toured the pantry this academic year, spending between 20 minutes and two hours examining the space, he said.
The tours come as food insecurity remains a prominent discussion in higher education and schools across the nation explore adding food pantries to their campuses. An October 2016 study co-conducted by the College and University Food Bank Alliance showed that nearly half of all students studied reported food insecurity in the month prior to their interview, and 22 percent qualified as “hungry.”
When a university reaches out to The Store, Miller said he typically emails documents like The Store’s founding timeline and GW’s general guidelines for launching a college pantry. These resources are often all schools look for to create their own pantries – but some officials want to go a step further and see the pantry’s set-up and location for themselves, he said.
“The cheesy answer is a picture is worth a thousand words – when people see it, they get it,” Miller said.
The Store opened its doors in 2016 and became an official student organization last academic year, led by sophomores Sarah Sem and Saru Duckworth, president and vice president of the organization. The two do not directly handle requests from other universities about tours but said communication and firsthand visibility of The Store assist universities that aim to achieve a similar food pantry setup.
Duckworth said the knowledge gained from their ongoing relationship with the College and University Food Bank Alliance – an organization that assists emerging and current campus food banks – offered guidance that could be passed down to other universities looking to start their own pantries.
“By supporting our peers, especially in student-led efforts, we hope that we can help address the problem of food insecurity not only in our GW community but across the country,” she said.
Sem said The Store’s “unique system” – which does not require someone to monitor students taking food from the pantry – is something she hopes to spread to other universities with the tours so that colleges can establish trust between students and pantry providers.
“It’s almost like a tangible thing – coming and actually seeing the space,” she said. “Being able to come in and actually see more than pictures and see where it is in District is something that puts all the puzzle pieces together.”
The Store, located in the back corner of District House’s first basement level, is open daily from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. More than 500 users have requested access to the pantry online by submitting their GW email address and GWID. They enter the pantry using a GWorld card and bring home what they need without being monitored.
Schools, like Temple University and University of West Georgia, which have sought information about GW’s pantry, said the tours and information provided gave them the confidence to implement a food pantry on their respective campuses – a goal they did not consider tangible until touring and communicating with GW’s food pantry.
Kathleen Grady, the director of sustainability at Temple University who toured GW’s pantry last April, said the trip was “inspiring” because it offered a visual understanding of a college pantry’s physical structure, which bolstered the development of a food pantry on Temple’s campus that she hopes will open in the next few months.
She added that addressing food security is vital for Temple to increase student satisfaction and boost retention rates because if students go hungry they can struggle academically and are more likely to leave campus.
“The GW program was really inspirational for us and a really great model,” she said. “I loved the facility, I loved how integrated it was and how it was a really good balance of a public building that was accessible to all different disciplines.”