When Carroll staff working inside the university’s library noticed student workers skipping meals, they asked why, learning that some were going without food when meal plans run out. They combatted the problem by creating an in-house food share program—now named Carroll’s Cupboard—that is expanding to serve a wider population of students this year.
“What we have heard is that students do not have enough swipes to make it for the semester and so they either ask other students to give them some of their swipes or they eat only one meal per day,” said Theresa Barry, Ph.D., vice president of Student Affairs, who announced the initiative to Carroll’s faculty and staff during a recent gathering. She said the university has heard from supervisors, staff, and faculty that some students have food insecurity issues.
Such concerns are not an issue at Carroll alone. According to Barry, national statistics from the USDA suggest that about 27% of all college students have food insecurity issues. Carroll has not yet done a survey of its own students so data is not available for the university to understand the scope of food insecurity here.
Said Barry, “Students will be able to eat, which I think will help with everything from staying attentive in classes to being able to sleep better at night because they won’t be hungry.”
Joe Hardenbrook, MLS, M.Ed. ’17, director of library services, first came up with the idea for Carroll’s Cupboard in considering ways to help student workers maintain a more consistent diet by making food readily available. He said library staff rolled out the project initially at the start of the 2018-2019 spring semester and then considered possible needs among the wider student population.
Staff repurposed a book tower in the library's first-floor computer area, where Hardenbrook said, “donations magically appear. We’ve gotten a lot of great stuff from students that they have brought over.” The program promotes a “take what you need, give what you can” philosophy with students.
“The library tends to be a place where students congregate and feel welcome,” Hardenbrook said. “We wanted to promote food share as a judgment-free zone.”
He said in promoting the idea to students, the university does not use the term “food pantry” because “Like it or not, there can be some negative connotations. We’re letting students know if you’re hungry and you’re busy and don’t have time to get something between classes, you can use this.”
Hardenbrook added, “We’re here to care about our students. If you’re not living a life of wellness it’s hard to be successful academically.”
As word of the library’s efforts spread, staff started a collaboration with Student Affairs and the Office of Spiritual Life to promote the library location but to also provide a second location for Carroll’s Cupboard inside the campus’s Student Involvement Center. Students do not have to ask for help if they are in need of food. They are able to access both locations on their own with no questions asked.
Hardenbrook said items that move fast with students are granola bars, single-serving packages of nuts, fruit cups, and individual serving items such as cups of mac ‘n’cheese and Cup Noodles soups. Canned items do not move as fast and perishable items are not accepted as donations. Students are looking for ready-to-eat items, he said, “where you don’t need to cook anything.”
Hardenbrook noted that the project has also attracted other items that might be useful to students such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and tampons. As the project grows, Carroll will be checking inventory at the end of each semester to see if there are any items that students didn’t use that could still be valuable to the Food Pantry of Waukesha County.
The Rev. Elizabeth E.P. McCord, Carroll’s chaplain and director of Spiritual Life, has been named as the university’s official coordinator of the Carroll’s Cupboard program.
“It’s an opportunity for our Carroll community to practice our ethos of stewardship, thinking about what we have, what we need, and how we can do more to share,” she said.
Alumni or community members wanting to help supply food or items for the cupboard may donate money online toward purchases online. Select Carroll’s Cupboarde in the drop-down of donation selections.