MU Tiger Pantry Grows, Shows Prevalence of Food Insecurity

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COLUMBIA - Since opening in October 2012, the MU Tiger Pantry has increased the amount of food it provides and clients it serves. The director said the growth shows food insecurity is an issue within the college population.

The pantry currently serves about 350 households, which amounts to more than 800 people, including students, faculty and staff.

Pantry Director Lauren McDermott said many people don't realize the need for a food pantry on a college campus.

"There is a growing population of people who need it," McDermott said. "Especially international students. A lot of times they're on stipends and they come over here and then their budgets get cut and they're left with, you know, much less than they originally intended for."

More than 34,000 students are currently enrolled at MU. From 2012 to 2013, more than 28,000 of those students received financial aid, not including loans. That accounts for about 82 percent of the entire student population. MU's latest numbers also show there are 4,605 faculty members and 12,026 on the staff.

Forty percent of the food pantry's clients are faculty and staff members, while the other 60 percent are students.

McDermott says the pantry sees both regular customers and sporadic users as poverty affects people differently. 

"We have multiple users who have only used us once or twice and that's just like poverty," McDermott said. "You can go in and out of poverty just like you can go in and out of food insecurity, so it all depends on the situation that they're in at that moment."

Sammy Zino is a sophomore at MU and has been working at Tiger Pantry since August 2013. He began volunteering and now serves as pantry manager on Sundays. He said he has gotten to know clients on a personal level and called his volunteering experiences fulfilling.

"I'm helping them out and not only, like I know them personally," Zino said. "It may seem odd, but it's really great to know I'm helping someone I care about."

While the pantry has grown a great deal, McDermott said there is still work to be done. 

"Someone found a graduate student in one of the university housing facilities going through the trash trying to find food for their family," McDermott said. "You know, that's just like an eye opener because you're like 'OK, we need to do more,' but then also it's showing how many people that we're still not reaching."

The Missouri Students Association helped fund Tiger Pantry when it first opened, but now it's financially independent. The pantry now survives solely off of donations.

McDermott said she expects the pantry to be short on food donations during the summer as many people leave for the season. She said the pantry will use some of its funds to help provide food for clients during the slower months. 

McDermott said she hopes the Tiger Pantry will continue to grow and expand in the future as more people learn about its services. The pantry can currently provide a person with a three-day emergency supply of food. She said she hopes the pantry eventually will be able to give clients a seven-day supply.

(Editor's note: This story has been edited to clarify the percentage of students, faculty and staff that use Tiger Pantry.)