Campus food pantry expected to open in March

Todd Kleiboer
Student case manager Nikki Barnett (left), graduate assistant Elisabet Martinez (right), and volunteer Eduardo Grimaldi (middle, face out of frame) put together shelves in late January to ready the pantry for its March opening.

By Todd Kleiboer | Co-Editor

Taking heed from hundreds of other colleges and universities around the nation, a food pantry will open in Craddock Hall Unit 1A in March with no exact date being set.

“As student case manager, I work with lots of students that are going through different crises, and something that’s come up in conversation with students is that they just don’t have enough to eat,” Nikki Barnett, who is over the pantry, said. “That’s just unacceptable for me. Having food is your most basic need, and if you don’t have that, how are you going to be successful as a student?”

The exact opening date in March will depend on the amount of donations the pantry receives and the speed Barnett, graduate assistant Elisabet Martinez, and other volunteers can ready the space for intake.

“The whole back of my car is full right now,” she said. “That was an unexpected donation, so it looks good so far. That was just another community partner, the Samaritan Inn in McKinney.”

This move is part of a growing trend across the nation with over 200 pantries being established over the past five years, and the conversation to start a pantry at this university began after Barnett and others visited Texas A&M University-Central Texas last May.

“It’s really small, but they have a food pantry, a ‘campus cupboard’ is what they call it,” Barnett said. “Robert Dotson [assistant dean of students] and I asked if we can see it, and they gladly showed it to us. We really got excited at that point because if they can do it with little resources and just donations from the student and community partners, we can do it.”

In receiving support for the A&M-Commerce pantry, Barnett reached out to Hunt Country Shared Ministries (also known as FISH) in Greenville, and student organizations such as SGA, LAMP, and Greek chapters have shown interest in helping.

“We’ve also been working with the annual programs for the alumni, and they’re definitely interested in helping to support the pantry,” Barnett said. “We have lots of interest, but they’re just looking for what ways they can help us at this point.”

A fund for the pantry is being set up through Annual and Special Programs, and director Jill Mobley said in an email that the fund came from a brainstorming session between her and Wyman Williams, former vice president of institutional advancement.

During one of my classes, I began discussing current issues in higher ed with Wyman Williams who was Interim Vice President of Advancement at the time,” Mobley said. “We felt that this opportunity would also be a great way to reach out to our young alumni who can make a significant, immediate impact on our current students through smaller donations.”

Anyone can donate to the fund by either calling Mobley at (903-468-8181), sending a check to Annual Programs, or going online to The goal is $25,000 a year, and $19,700 of it has been met already through a donation by the A&M-Commerce Foundation Board. The fund would be used to purchase food and for emergency funds that students can apply for through Student Affairs.

“With over 90,000 living alumni and an average student meal cost at the campus cafeteria of approximately $9, I’m confident we can raise the remaining $5,300 this year and get a great jump on next year as well,” Mobley said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get involved!”

Students will have to show only a student ID to receive food, and Barnett hopes to help students coming into the pantry in ways such as assessing their financial aid or referring them to services better equipped to aid them.

“My objective with this is not just to hand out food,” Barnett said. “It’s to assess the situation and to determine is this a bad week for the student or is this going to be a bad semester?”

The number of items a student will receive depends on the amount of donations the pantry receives, and Barnett said she is confident that they will receive enough donations to have a choice pantry.

“If we get an abundant amount of donations, I would hope that a student could go in and pick out a certain amount of items,” Barnett said. “Based on the procedures of other campus pantries, a student may be able to pick out 10 to 15 items of their choice, or there may be pre-bagged items.”

The pantry will also have to combat the stigma associated with receiving its help, a stigma that often holds people back from asking for food.

“The way that I feel we can successfully do that is to change people’s thinking about it,” Barnett said. “The way we use the other resources on campus [like tutoring or counseling], we want the students to see as just another resource like that. It’s not for any particular student. It’s for all students.”