With the impact of food insecurity on campus continuing to impact, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has implemented a resource intended to help – CJ’s Cupboard.
CJ’s Cupboard is a welcome pantry for all Gillings students, located at 2220 McGavran-Greenberg Hall. Amanda Holiday, associate professor of nutrition and director of CJ’s Cupboard, said she helped start CJ’s after a survey last year revealed that about 9 percent of Gillings students were food insecure.
Holiday said the name “CJ’s Cupboard” comes from a combination of Holiday’s grandmothers’ initials, both of which inspired her to pursue nutrition and cooking.
The Holliday and Nutrition Coalition oversees CJ’s Cupboard, a student organization run by Elizabeth Law and Heba Akhtar that conducts numerous food-related and fundraising projects on campus.
Lu said that although the university values student health, the strict lifestyle of a University of North Carolina student can make it difficult to prioritize nutrition.
Food insecurity among college students is a problem that many people have historically overlooked, said Jessica Soldvini, research specialist at No Kid Hungry NC and the Carolina Hunger Initiative.
The USDA classifies food security levels into four different categories; High, Margin, Low and Ultra Low. High food security indicates no problems with food access, while very low indicates multiple reports of reduced food intake and disruption of eating patterns.
Soldvini said that prior to COVID-19, figures showed that about 30 percent of students at the University of North Carolina were food insecure, and another 21 percent were marginally food secure.
“From the outside, college campuses appear hidden with fast-food options, dining halls, take-out restaurants, and vending machines,” Maggie Symonds, a student who co-created the pantry, said in a statement. . “But behind the scenes, roughly one in six students suffers from some degree of food insecurity.”
Soldvini said there is research to show that food insecurity in college students is linked to poor academic outcomes and that food plays an important role in student success.
“You have to get food to learn,” Holiday said.
One contributing factor to the amount of food insecurity across college campuses, Soldvini said, is the difficulty of college students qualifying for SNAP benefits. During the pandemic, students could qualify in work-study or with a discretionary family contribution of $0 on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but she said those exemptions will expire soon.
“There is a lot that needs to be done, not just at the university level, but at the national level in terms of tackling food insecurity,” she said.
Holiday said CJ’s cupboard does not check to see what level of food security students are experiencing, because food insecurity is “swing and flowing.”
“So we keep the door open every day and all day and encourage students to come and go as they please,” she said. It is estimated that about 50 to 100 students from Geeling visit the store every day.
The Carolina Cupboard, which is stocked at the campus level, usually operates by appointment. Holiday said the Carolina Cupboard serves a much larger number of CJ residents and does a great job serving the campus.
She said the CJ store also keeps feminine products, toiletries and other household necessities, including clean clothes.
“So we hear a lot of feedback from women, and we’ve heard a lot of feedback from all of our undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students about how grateful they are that we have free women’s products,” Holiday said.
Within the food items the store holds, Lo said the most frequently used products are the international food options it offers. She said CJ tries to stock up on as many types of food as possible to make people with certain cultural preferences feel at home.
To advance the project, Holliday and the Nutrition Coalition’s goal is to supply fresh produce within CJ’s and to start gardening around Gillings.
“So I think that more access, having affordable, accessible food in all parts of the campus, as well as more lockers will greatly help these residents,” Holiday said.
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