UNH Continues to Fight Food Insecurity on Campus

DURHAM, NH- Cats Cupboard located in MUB 140A at the University of New Hampshire.

Rhianwen Watkins, Arts Editor

For many students, lunch is one of the most exciting parts of the day. It’s an opportunity to bond with friends, enjoy delicious food and take a break from the usual routine of tiring classes and studying. But for many, this is not a reality. And sometimes, it’s easy to overlook that it is happening in our own backyards. 

Located in the Memorial Union Building (MUB) room 140A at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Cats’ Cupboard is a pantry that opened in the spring semester of 2022, providing canned, frozen and packaged foods that students can take home to cook for dinner, warm up in a microwave on campus or even grab as a quick snack to take to their next class.

“The university as a whole wanted to build a more tight knit community with their students and realized that, hey, some people might need some more help than the current programs we have already offered,” said Ryan Chagnon, the supervisor of Cats’ Cupboard.

Food insecurity can greatly affect students’ mental health, focus, energy and academic success. Through the help of dietician Rochelle L’Italien, the cupboard provides nutritious options for students free of charge. All students are welcomed to make use of the cupboard, which is open Tuesdays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Fridays 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

 Currently the cupboard serves between five and 15 people per day, which is a number that UNH hopes to grow in order to serve more people as they become aware of the pantry’s presence.

 “I’m hoping that once we have more people aware of what we do and what we have that more people will come in, and we’ll be able to expand our offerings even more,” said Emma Owens, a third year French and International affairs dual major at UNH who works as a student supervisor at the cupboard. Her role includes checking people’s IDs as they enter and helping to answer any questions.

 She added that she hopes these offerings might include access to the cupboard during summer and winter breaks.

 Brennan Rumble, general manager of hospitality services at UNH who works with Cats’ Cupboard, added that he hopes in the future they can work towards allowing students to have swipe access to the cupboard. This, he said, would allow people to come in without staff having to be there all the time, and it would allow the pantry to be accessible more often.

 In addition, Cats Cupboard partners with Gather, a local organization with a goal of helping to combat food insecurity on the seacoast. UNH provides Gather with a kitchen on campus located in Barton Hall where they take unserved, surplus food from the dining halls, as well as food from local grocery stores, UNH catering and campus gardens to repurpose it for distribution through their Cooking4Communities program. This program repurposes unused foods from markets and restaurants, and in this case, food at UNH. The program repurposes an average of 600 meals weekly.

 Some of this repurposed food is packaged and offered as microwavable meals at Cats’ Cupboard. The meals are different each week, but examples of this week’s options are pasta primavera, corn chowder and vegan chili.

 The pantry makes it a point to offer allergen-friendly options including vegan and gluten free foods whenever possible. The pantry also offers basic toiletries for students who are in need of them.

 “It’s something for anyone that may need help. You don’t have to have a background of eating assistance if something’s happening this week,” Chagnon said. “We’re here for people to fall back on and help wherever is needed.”

 “There’s no limit as of right now, on how much someone can take or how many times they can come in. It really is just about giving back to people,” added Owens.

 Along with the pantry, UNH offers the “Swipe it Forward” program. The way it works is  students who have swipe plans which offer a certain number of swipes per semester, can donate some of their swipes towards students who need them. Then, students can obtain swipes by filling out the Swipe it Forward Request Form, which then gives them access to swipes for free.

 Faculty and staff can also donate towards the program through a payroll deduction which they can arrange by contacting Business Services.  

 Another pantry that operates in Durham, is the Cornucopia Food Pantry which operates out of the Waysmeet Center at 15 Mill Road. The pantry is open Tuesdays 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesdays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Fridays 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

 Because of COVID-19, the pantry is operating by appointment only, so it is best to call ahead of time to book a time to stop by. The pantry also accepts donations which can be dropped off in the donation bin at the Waysmeet Center.

 No matter what students are going through financially, they can count on multiple resources across the campus to help them out so that food is not a stressor.

 Owens reflected on the reasons why she was compelled to help out with the Cats’ Cupboard.

“I think that it was just a drive to want to help my community out,” she said. “I was really grateful for everyone who was helping me out. And when I heard that there was food insecurity on campus, I figured it was a really great way to sort of give back to a community that gave me a lot when I first came here.”

 Cats’ Cupboard is located in MUB 140A. All you need when you visit is your student ID and some reusable bags, if available.

Some of the food available at Cats Cupboard. (Photos by Watkins)

“I’ve always felt like it’s just kind of what we do at UNH,” said Rumble. “We look out for other Wildcats.”