The numbers can be disheartening. More than 30 percent of students at Southern Connecticut State University are food insecure. And nearly 80 percent of students at Southern rely on jobs to provide for their basic needs yet many are still coming up short. Nationally, 72 percent of economically disadvantaged students are more likely to drop out than any other demographic, according to a University Business study. This fall, however, the creation of Southern’s Food Pantry and Social Services Center offers hope in a new set of numbers, one that will help students — and the university – tell a different story about student success.
Numbers like 819.73: how many pounds of food have left the food pantry since it opened on Oct. 28. And 28: how many shoppers have visited the pantry in just a few weeks. And $531,720: how much Southern’s alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends raised in 2020’s Day of Giving to support students. More than 34 percent went directly to the Support Our Students Fund and, according to Kaitlin Ingerick, director of Annual Giving, is “an enormous part of the reason” Southern can provide aid.
“Everything inside the pantry has been donated by faculty, staff, and students,” Student Affairs Case Manager Sue Zarnowski said. “We are part of the Connecticut Food Bank, but it is so inundated, they can’t help as much. We also team up with M.L. Keefe Community Center for produce and dairy. The food pantry’s aisles look like a mini supermarket. We even have baby food items, a cereal section. Even snacks.”
“Since we opened,” Zarnowski said, “more than 800 pounds of food have left the pantry, and some of our shoppers have been repeat visitors. When the pantry was mobile, it was a 50/50 split between commuters and students living on campus. Now we see more commuters, more students who may be non-traditional.”
That doesn’t surprise Jules Tetreault, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean of students, who acknowledged that as Southern increasingly focuses on access, the student populations that are growing are those that need the extra support; that extends beyond food.
“The idea is that the food pantry is step one in a larger project,” Tetreault said. “We know that students have insecurities about needs in general. COVID adversely affected subsets of our population, especially financially insecure students, and exacerbated their situations.”
While the pantry gives students immediate access to food, in the future Tetreault said the center also will connect students to various types of assistance through the Social Services Center.
“I work with students who are homeless,” Tetreault said. “We have students whose families have been laid off, and they are the breadwinners on minimum wage. The Social Services Center will be a hub to support these pieces, like referrals for other assistance programs as aid is shrinking. It will help us make connection points as we continue to increase access and success.”
Using the Food Pantry
The food pantry is located in the Wintergreen Building. It is open to all undergraduate and graduate student shoppers Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. The pantry will be closed Nov. 25. Students can visit the pantry directly during business hours or make an appointment, which usually lasts 15 minutes, through SSC Navigate. When they visit, students simply pick what they need.
Ways to Help
Southern’s food pantry is currently stocking its shelves with food to help students meet their basic needs. Funding is needed to help keep the shelves stocked with food and sustain the food pantry for the entire year. Donors can make a gift to the Support Our Students (SOS) Fund, which supports the food pantry initiative. To do so, visit www.southernct.edu/giving and choose the “Support Our Students Fund” in the dropdown.
Donors also can donate directly through Amazon Prime, which ships free to the pantry, or through similar platforms.