This month, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) launched a free-for-students resource that aims to battle food insecurity on campus.
Formed in 2019, the UNH Basic Needs Committee works to address challenges facing students related to housing, food, money and other resources. A recent survey found that around one fifth of respondents were dealing with some level of food insecurity.
Flash forward a few months and many important conversations, and Cats’ Cupboard was born. The food pantry opened Feb. 11 in the Memorial Union Building and the only requirement is a valid WildcatPass and student ID for verification.
The Cupboard is set up similarly to a grocery store, with shelves to browse as well as refrigerated and frozen sections. Visitors are able to take as much as they need, from groceries to household items. Reusable bags are encouraged due to a limited supply of bags and boxes at the pantry.
“We do not infer how much need people have. If you say you’re here and you need food, have at it,” said Paul Young.
Young has spent the past year at UNH as part of the N.H. Food Security AmeriCorps VISTA Project, which formed in response to food insecurities caused or exacerbated by the pandemic.
Rochelle L’Italien, a registered dietician and nutritionist at UNH Dining, has also helped get the Cupboard up and running. She said they’ve been inspired by other university food pantries, such as the University of Maryland, which has a new student teaching kitchen on campus.
“That sparked the idea of how we can connect [the Cupboard] with academics and learning opportunities,” said L’Italien.
Community collaboration plays an important role in the Cupboard’s success. The initial supply came from local pantry Gather, a partner through UNH’s food repurposing project, and food drives. They’ve communicated with other pantries in Durham to mold their schedule on days where there’s more of a need. For example, St. Thomas More is open on Thursdays, and their leftovers come to Cats’ Cupboard for their Friday opening. This reduces waste and maximizes usefulness of resources.
Following the conclusion of Young’s work in May, Union Court Supervisor Ryan Chagnon will take over the day-to-day operations.
Chagnon hopes to expand operational hours to five days per week with the assistance of members of his staff, in addition to the two student supervisors currently working in the Cupboard.
There is also an advisory board made up of community members, including faculty and students, which will guide the pantry presently and as it expands.
Beyond the tangible impacts, the goal is to end the stigma surrounding food insecurity and to be a touchpoint for other resources students may need. The values of dignity, trust and privacy each guide the pantry’s mission, according to Young.
In the foreseeable future, they hope to partner with the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester to expand resources. This process will hopefully begin within one to two months.
Cats’ Cupboard is located in MUB 140A and is open Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. No appointment is necessary. Food donations can be brought into the pantry and monetary donations can be made via their UNH Gift Fund account.
“I think food is a right and anyone who needs help, should be able to come in and get help,” Young said.
Photo courtesy of Rochelle L’Italien.