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    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    Food pantry opens for UConn-Avery Point students, staff

    Students Mehwish Rajput, left, and Toni Xu, look at some of the produce available Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, while picking up snacks at the Husky Harvest food pantry at UConn Avery Point in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Student Body President Zachary Boudah talks Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, about the new Husky Harvest food pantry at UConn Avery Point in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Associate campus director Janene Vandi, right, and student body president Zachary Boudah, left, talk about the new Husky Harvest food pantry on campus Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, located at UConn Avery Point in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Associate campus director Janene Vandi talks about the new Husky Harvest food pantry on campus Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, located at UConn Avery Point in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton ― Freshman Mehwish Rajput, who picked up snacks this week from a new food pantry at the University of Connecticut-Avery Point, said she now has one less thing to worry about.

    “I come from a family of already low-income and self-built people so having this is just a lot more convenient for me,” Rajput said of the food pantry. “I can save money for actual necessities that I need.”

    Rajput said college students often either don’t have time to buy food or they don’t have money to buy food.

    “I think having this is a great opportunity for all students,” she said.

    Husky Harvest, a new food pantry for students, faculty, and staff, opened on campus this week and is designed to be like a grocery store with bright lighting and shelves of canned vegetables, tomato sauce, pasta, rice, beans, cereal, tuna fish, peanut butter, granola bars and beverages. There is a table set up with baskets of food, such as apples, bananas and potatoes, and frozen vegetables in the freezer. The pantry currently is open three days a week.

    Connecticut Foodshare, the largest food bank in Connecticut, partnered with the University of Connecticut to open food pantries at its four regional campuses.

    Zachary Boudah, student body president and a sophomore, said he has struggled with food insecurity in the past and has seen his parents struggle to put food on the table and have to make sacrifices. Boudah now sees students, faculty and staff facing the same situation.

    Boudah said people are skipping meals, and at times, he’s bought meals for peers, and they’ve bought meals for him.

    Boudah said it’s difficult to study when hungry. He’s trying to combat the stigma of food insecurity by raising awareness of the new food pantry and encouraging undergraduate and graduate students, staff and faculty to stop by to pick up food items for a meal or a few meals.

    “It’s important to me that everyone has a safe place to go where they know that they’re going to be welcomed, where they know that they’re going to walk out of here with whatever it is that’s going to get them through the day,” Boudah said.

    He said everyone is always looking to save money. People at the commuter campus are driving there, paying for parking and gas, tuition, fees, books and other bills.

    Connecticut Foodshare President and CEO Jason Jakubowski, a graduate of the University of Connecticut who teaches at its School of Public Policy, said the nonprofit organization is thrilled to be partnering with the university.

    Jakubowski said there are more than 700 pantries on college campuses nationwide and data shows that one in every three college students is food insecure, yet the public may not be aware of the issue among college students.

    “I think we often think about young children and senior citizens when we think about people who are hungry but we forget sometimes the people in between,” he said. Many young adults, who are going to college and have housing costs, electric costs, and tuition costs, may not have the money to be able to purchase food for themselves.

    “A lot of us have seen this first-hand: that college students in particular really struggle with food insecurity,” Jakubowski said. “That’s why we’ve been talking with the university, and that’s why we’re opening these Husky Harvests.”

    Opportunity for all students

    At the food pantry, members of the school community can pick up recipes, from roasted chickpeas to tuna noodle casserole, and learn about the food’s nutritional value and which items they should choose often, sometimes, or rarely. They also can learn about additional resources, such as how to apply for scholarships or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

    The food pantry also has a small collection of toiletry items, including soap and toothpaste. Boudah and Associate Campus Director Janene Vandi said the hope is to offer more items, such as paper products and laundry detergent in the future.

    Vandi said students can take food for themselves as well as for their families at home.

    Vandi said 78% of students receive some type of financial aid and nearly half of students receive need-based aid, such as grants or work-study awards.

    A survey of students found that 39.8% of respondents have very low to marginal food security.

    In addition to having to pay for tuition and books, all students commute to campus so many have expenses from cars and gas, Vandi said. Many students also are expected to contribute to their families, whether through bringing in money from working or helping with childcare. The university also has many first generation students.

    “They’re juggling a lot so if this can lift them up and take one of those burdens away, it’s a wonderful thing,” Vandi said.

    Boudah recounted a story of Vandi offering him a KIND bar after he missed lunch to go to a meeting during a harried day.

    In that moment, Boudah realized the food pantry was for him and everyone else, “even if you think you have no food insecurity.”

    “The (United States Department of Agriculture) defines food insecurity as having any hesitation about being able to get nutritious food, any at all, and so for someone who has experienced it first-hand, this program literally brought me to tears,” Boudah said.

    Helping out

    Connecticut Food Share provides the bulk of food ― about 75% ― with the rest coming from donations, Vandi said.

    The food pantry is a volunteer operation that is assisted by a work-study student and minimal staff support, Vandi said. The university is looking for volunteers and donations to the food pantry.

    Adolfo Donastorg, a New London resident and freshman studying music, stopped by Husky Harvest on Thursday after one of the workers told him about it one day when he was walking by. He picked up a Powerade to help him stay hydrated as he walks around a lot and he said Husky Harvest was really convenient.

    He said he was planning on donating to the food pantry to see if he can help out.

    Husky Harvest, located in the Community Professional Building, is open to students, staff and faculty at UConn-Avery Point 1:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays, and 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays.

    Information on how to donate to the Regional Campus Food Insecurity Fund at the UConn Foundation is available at: https://www.foundation.uconn.edu/fund/regional-campus-food-insecurity-fund/


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