TEXARKANA — Harvest Regional Food Bank and Texas A&M University-Texarkana have partnered up to provide an on-campus pantry for students who are food insecure.
The idea for the Eagle Pantry was born from the Office of Student Life once employees realized how prevalent hunger and food insecurity are among students.
"A survey of current and former TAMU-T students revealed that 30% did not have enough food for themselves or their household at least once while being part of the Eagle Family," according to a news release from TAMU-T.
The pantry opened for the first time this past Wednesday night and served approximately 50 students.
This is the third on-campus pantry Harvest has helped establish. Others are located at Texarkana College and at the Nashville, Ark. high school.
"We've been expanding our childhood hunger programs from just the backpack program to piloting our first on-campus high school pantry this past year so this was just another step in that direction," said Camille Wrinkle, Harvest executive director. "We're able assist young adults and families who are bettering themselves and furthering their education but also having the responsibility of providing for their families."
Two more on-campus pantries will open soon at the University of Arkansas Hope- Texarkana campuses in Hope, Arkansas and Texarkana, Arkansas.
"Those should be opening in the next couple of months," she said.
The pantry program for high school students and young adults is expanding on the efforts from the Backpack program which provides easy-to-prepare meals and snacks for elementary and middle school students to tide them over on the weekends when they don't have access to school breakfast and lunch.
"It didn't take us long to realize these students were also struggling as they progressed out of our Backpack program and became high school students and college students," Wrinkle said. "Over the past few years we've really looked at how we could provide hunger relief for those students as well, knowing what works for the elementary-age program might not work for older students and vice-versa. Nutritional needs are different. The ability to prepare foods varies. With our high school and now college pantries we're able to provide things that require some preparation — for example boxed meals, as well as items that have a larger quantity for example a box of cereal versus a few self-serve cereal bowls to get them through the weekend. We're also able to offer canned goods, and our pantries often include recipes that can be made from the items they're getting at the pantry."
The on-campus pantries also offer hygiene items.
"I think it's really a blessing that the pantries not only offer food but they also offer hygiene items. Whether they are a young child or adult, when they're clean, fed and have clean clothing on, they feel more pride and a child that has more pride does things with more pride including their school work," she said.
Wrinkle hopes the idea for these on-campus pantries takes off.
"I really love the aspect of partnering with another agency or organization that's filling another need such as education or health care so I'm hoping these kind of models will increase and we'll see a higher number of partnerships with organizations that aren't only helping families feed themselves but also preparing them for a better future."