Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A battle against campus food insecurity: CEPA’s new food closet open to all UMass students

The food closet stocks only non-perishable goods and is open to both undergraduate and graduate students
McKenna Premus

A new student-run food closet at the University of Massachusetts opened April 9 and is located in the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) office on the first floor of the Student Union. The closet, which contains only non-perishable food items, is free and available for all UMass students; no student ID check is required to take food.

The creation of the closet was a joint effort between CEPA, the Student Government Association and the UMass chapter of Alpha Phi Omega (APO). The closet remains stocked all academic year with ramen, canned food, snacks, essential pantry ingredients and other goods. Only non-perishable items are available as the office does not have access to a refrigerator.

Funding comes from the groups’ yearly budgets and a partnership with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. CEPA is expecting regular food deliveries from the Bank next semester and are also hoping to extend their hours to Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. as they will have a full-time director.

The hours for the current spring semester are Monday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Lily Pleven, a sophomore social thought and political economy major and CEPA campaign coordinator said the groups took inspiration from the Amherst Survival Center which has a food pantry and supplies many food insecure college students with meals.

“What we’ve heard from Amherst Survival Center is that it is a really large amount of students who have to, you know, go over there and get food,” Pleven said. “And so we just wanted to kind of make a location that is central to campus and easy for students to reach, you know, even if they don’t have a car, even if they’re working multiple jobs.”

The goal, Pleven explained, was to have the closet stocked with items which appealed both to upperclassmen and graduate students with access to kitchens, and to undergraduates living in the dorms. “We kind of tried to do our best to provide the broadest kind of nutritional value for what we’re approved to do,” Pleven said, and noted the difference between a food closet and food pantry, as a pantry also provides perishable food ingredients.

According to Pleven, data on food insecurity is not well documented at UMass. “That’s kind of an issue that we’ve kind of gone back and forth with the administration,” she said. “But what we do know is that obviously this is like a state school…there are a large number of students that are first generation that are low income and eligible for [federal] Pell Grants.”

“We don’t want to tokenize students who are experiencing food insecurity and we don’t want to turn it into a statistic,” Pleven said CEPA decided after multiple conversations with the Amherst Survival Center. “There is a lot of shame and stigma involved in it still, unfortunately.”

“We don’t [impose] any kind of limits…we don’t require any documentation from the students,” Pleven said. “We just want to make sure that everyone feels that the process is as smooth and, um, easy as possible.”

In a report put together by Grace Cipollone, junior biology major and outgoing president of APO, the Massachusetts Hunger Free Campus Coalition estimated in 2023 that 37 percent of public university students in M.A. are food insecure.

A report from 2018 by Danielle Corrado found that 11.7 percent of UMass students are food insecure. “This number will continue to increase and the ability of the University to accommodate students will help mitigate food insecurity on campus,” the report stated.

According to Cipollone there used to be a student run food closet in Bartlett Hall however the COVID-19 pandemic and other circumstances caused it to shut down. “Not enough students know that [the new food closet is] there and it could be a really valuable resource going into the next academic year,” Cipollone said.

APO along with the Dean of Students Office is also currently working on a swipe donation campaign which aims to create a donation pool for students’ unused meal swipes for others to claim. Cipollone noted those struggling with food insecurity to visit the UMass food security initiatives webpage for additional resources.

Cipollone said the food closet is “a basic solution to a pretty prevalent problem” and hopes that it “functions as intended” and that “students know it’s there and students aren’t afraid to use it.”

“We’ve seen that it’s needed in a kind of community way as well…people will sit and eat with each other [in the CEPA office] and talk to people who you know they’ve never met or maybe never would have met,” Pleven said.

“It’s really been awesome to see the impact that it has on like the community as a whole.”

Grace Lee can be reached at [email protected].

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