IUPUI program repackages leftovers to fight campus food insecurity

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — In the heart of IUPUI's campus, in a corridor just past the elevators, you'll find 1,000 square feet of student aid. It was designed to tackle an issue often overlooked.

Instead of shopping for books, students come to Paw's Pantry for boxes, bottles and bags. Each contains perishable and non-perishable food items.

According to a 2019 campus study, food is something a large percentage of students go without.

"1 in 5 IUPUI students is food insecure on some level," explains Assistant Director of Student Advocacy and Support, Shaina Lawrence. " If you’re hungry, you’re not able to focus on what you need to focus on."

As a student advocate, Lawrence knew food insecurity was an issue at IUPUI. She heard from students in her office for years, but the data revealed a campuswide struggle.

"I would say that skipping meals is very, very frequent and it might just be one meal, or it could be multiple meals," she recalls. "They might get one meal a day, or they might skip meals for several days."

It's the reason Paw's Pantry opened back in 2013.

Twice a month students can visit the pantry to pick up what they need. The pantry sees nearly 100 students each week.

Items are color coded to represent serving sizes. Students are able to pick up a certain number of each color when they shop.

The food is donated and free of charge. The shelves are stocked by volunteers who often come by to help in addition to work and classes.

"It's all worth it because we can help other people as well," says student volunteer Olivia Strobel.

Thanks to a recent partnership with a student organization called Campus Kitchen, the pantry can now serve fresh meals to supplement the items on the shelves.

The meals are repackaged by student volunteers from dining hall leftovers. That can sometimes mean getting creative with ingredients, or relying on a community partners to make the meal balanced.

Some meals are finalized by food donated by Second Helpings.

"Our kitchen actually prepares 4,700 meals a day that we send out to the community," says Second Helpings' agency relations manager Patty Cortellini.

The organization collects 2.7 million pounds of food every year. Anything they can't re-purpose, gets donated. Sometimes those leftover pieces go to IUPUI.

"They come in about once a week and sort through the food we can’t use," Cortellini explains. "It is so refreshing to see them saying what can I do to help my fellow student, and can I do more."

The answer to that question when it comes to fighting hunger is almost always yes.

"These are our future leaders, and the fact that they’re going hungry is really sad," Lawrence laments. "We have so much food in this country and we should not have food insecurity as an issue."

The partnership between Campus Kitchen and Paw's Pantry is called Paw's Express.

The program has 50 slots available to current pantry shoppers. Right now, about 30 spots are filled.

The organization hopes to expand the number of students they help, but the say it will take more volunteers and more food donations.

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