Kaitlyn Tambasco, Managing News Editor
Instead of being a classroom for students, room 180 in the Gordon Science Center now has another purpose. Utica College’s new food pantry, “The Tangerine Grove,” opened its doors on Monday, Feb. 3.
The Tangerine Grove offers free, quick and easy food and personal hygiene items for any UC community member who is having trouble accessing adequate supplies to get through the day, according to an email sent to the Utica College community.
Internship Program Director for Nutrition Erin Kelly said the idea for the food pantry has been around for about two or three years. However, the first time the idea was proposed was not the right time. Kelly later pointed out that Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated every two-year and four-year state school in New York must have a food pantry. This sparked the idea again.
“It’s been really fast and we started seriously working on it in the fall so we were able to make things happen pretty quickly and the process wasn’t too hard,” Kelly said. “I’m on the board at a food pantry and I volunteer at a food pantry in the town I live in so I already had some ideas about organization and things like that.”
Kelly and others referenced helpful guidance they received from the director of the food pantry at Mohawk Valley Community College in Rome and information obtained from the College and University Food Bank website.
“Our goal is to meet the needs of students while they’re here,” Kelly said. “It’s not just about telling people what to eat or how food interacts with your body, it’s about making sure they have enough food to eat.”
The pantry has many different selections for breakfast, including granola bars and oatmeal packets. They also have meals for lunch and dinner including soup, macaroni and cheese, ramen, tuna and others.
UC partnered with a couple of local food pantries such as the seeds of hope food pantry that is part of the First Presbytarian Church and the Hope House. These are services that students can take advantage of if they are looking to meet their long-term needs.
Guests of the Tangerine Grove are given a shopping bag when they come in and are told to take what they need for the day.
“Our job isn’t to judge other people so if we see someone that’s coming in a lot, we can ask them if there’s help we can get for them,” Kelly said. “If someone is hungry, we are not going to turn them away, even if it is three times a day.”
Kelly said as of right now, the pantry is not open on the weekends but would like to see it evolve to that.
In order to name the food pantry, a series of different names were brainstormed.
“We wanted it to be appropriate to the college history, with SU, the newspaper, so we questioned what a group of Tangerine’s were called and it was the Tangerine Grove,” Kelly said.
“We put it out there to the steering community and the nutrition students, and everyone thought it was a decent idea.”
Kelly said the support it has received from people on campus has been “amazing.” About half of the food donated was from Young Scholars.
“It’s a community effort and it’s been heartening,” Kelly said. “The food pantry is open to anyone that’s hungry.”
Therapeutic Recreation chair Kirstin Walker also had a hand in planning the Tangerine Grove. She said the idea originally came about from the Nutrition Department but at the time she was not aware of it.
She said last spring, she and her students started to talk about how other schools have food pantries. In the fall, Walker said the students talked again about what activities the Therapeutic Recreation society would like to do and one idea was a food pantry.
From there, the Therapeutic Recreation society and the Nutrition Club worked together.
“The first thing was just our ideas, where we would put it, what kind of food we would have, who we were trying to help and then in order for it to be approved the administrators wanted to make sure we had a mission and goals,” Walker said. “Then we came up with the idea of having a food drive, we had to come up with a name and it was all happening at once so we could open up.”
Walker said the process of getting things together was held up because it had to be reviewed by the administrators. She said the food drive was supposed to happen one week but it ended up being during finals week of last semester.
“I guess every organization has processes to make things work,” Walker said. “We did get a ton of food anyway and we were still able to open up on time. We just had to put the breaks on for about 10 days.”
Walker said right now, she does not think items with an expiration date are accepted.
“There’s students that are really at risk because they can’t afford to get food and then you have students who have been here all day and are really hungry and forgot to bring their lunch and do not have a way to get something to eat,” Walker said.
Walker said for right now the pantry relies on donations in order for it to be restocked but is hoping to build more relationships with different food pantries to share food.
“We don’t want anyone to be hungry from food sufficiency and it does not necessarily have to be students, it can be faculty or staff,” Walker said. “We just don’t know what is going on in people’s personal lives.”
Nicole Evans is a senior and a Dietetics and Nutrition student who also volunteers in the Tangerine Grove. She got involved after Kelly informed herself and some other nutrition students that a campus food pantry was in the process of being created.
It was not until this semester that Kelly informed the group, as well as some of the Therapeutic Recreation students, that the pantry was going to be up and running and that there was a need for volunteers.
“It’s nice to help fellow students and be involved in something that is so beneficial for the UC community,” Evans said.
Evans said that, as a volunteer, she has to register new guests to the pantry, make sure returning guests sign in, answer any questions they have about using the pantry, periodically restock the shelves with food and personal hygiene products and provide information about other local emergency resources if needed.
“Aside from the obvious benefits of helping to fight hunger among our classmates, I think having the food pantry will help to highlight the fact that hunger is a very wide-spread issue that can impact pretty much anyone,” Evans said. “I also think it will help students realize that there is no shame in needing or asking for help, particularly with something as important as having enough food.”
Senior Madeline Smith said after the collaboration with the Therapeutic Recreation Society and the Nutrition Club, those involved realized there was an abundant need for food on campus, especially for those who do not have a meal plan.
Smith described being a volunteer as “extremely rewarding.”
“It is a welcoming environment and we always encourage students to take what they need,” Smith said. “The appreciation that we receive makes all of the hard work worth it.”
The Tangerine Grove is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and from 4-5 p.m.. If anyone is interested in volunteering, they can stop in or email Erin Kelly at email@example.com.