The phrase is repeated over and over: “There’s a need here.”
Nick Droege says it. Peggy Kirkpatrick says it. Tiger Pantry volunteers say it as they work.
At MU, 15,000 students are on need-based financial aid, according to the Tiger Pantry website. More than 6,000 students qualify for Pell Grants. Twenty students self-report as homeless each semester.
Tiger Pantry, 1400 Rock Quarry Road, is Droege’s answer to the dire financial situation in which many MU students and employees find themselves. The situation sometimes requires the choice between paying bills and purchasing food.
“I never used to think about the need on college campuses,” said Droege, Tiger Pantry founder and director. “It’s shocking for me.”
It wasn’t until his trip to the University of Arkansas in January, where Droege witnessed Arkansas’ Full Circle Pantry operation, that he became intrigued about founding a pantry at Mizzou.
Droege, a senior biological sciences major, began presenting his pantry idea to various students and campus administrators. His adviser for the project was Anne Deaton, wife of Chancellor Brady J. Deaton. She led Droege to Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick is executive director of the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, a Heart of Missouri United Way partner overseeing 35 pantries in Boone County.
Kirkpatrick wasn’t immediately enthused by the idea. She feared the pantry would be a student project that would last six months to a year and vanish.
“Every roadblock I threw up, [Droege and Deaton] met and answered,” she said. “I was finally convinced this was something they believed in and wanted to do.”
With the Food Bank helping with startup, Droege began to work out logistics. Ten months later, on Oct. 1, Tiger Pantry opened its doors.
During its first week of operation, Tiger Pantry had 159 clients from the MU community, most of whom were graduate students, said Timothy Rich, executive director of the Heart of Missouri United Way. Through the Food Bank, United Way helps fund Tiger Pantry.
On a recent Tuesday at the pantry, volunteers buzzed around the stockroom grabbing cans of chicken, tuna, soup and about anything else encased in a cylindrical aluminum shell, and tossing them in bags to give to clients.
Alaina Babb, a junior secondary chemistry education major, volunteers at Tiger Pantry. “I’ve always been involved in food pantries at home,” she said. “This is a lot more intimate. You get to know a lot of the people better. It’s more close-knit than other food banks.”
The intimacy with the clients allows pantry volunteers to offer clients information about other aid resources, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infant, Children Supplemental Program (WIC).
Through these referrals, Droege hopes to devise a more permanent outcome. “How can we be a better part of the solution instead of a temporary fix?” he asked.
The initial success of the pantry is encouraging, said Kat Seal, the pantry’s sustainability coordinator. But her main goal has yet to be accomplished.
Seal, a junior sustainable agriculture major, hopes to bring fresh produce to pantry shelves. This will help clients develop a more healthful diet.
Many familes might opt to buy unhealthful foods because they can be cheaper than produce, Seal said. “They need this highly nutritious food the most,” she said.
Seal is sure that Tiger Pantry is important to the community.
“Mizzou was able to step up to the plate and admit the problem,” Seal said. “This pantry needs to be here, and people are using it.”
Tiger Pantry donations can be made at any of the donation bins around campus, such as at the north and south desks of the Center for Student Involvement, the Student Center Information Desk, the Women’s Center, Memorial Union, the Registrar’s Office and the Bookstore. Monetary donations can also be given to the pantry.
More information on donations can be found at tigerpantry.missouri.edu.
— Ashley Carman