Bowie State University opens a lounge-style food pantry for students in need

School administrators aimed to reduce the stigma of food banks with the project.

A Maryland university has opened a new food pantry for students with the aim of eliminating the stigma of utilizing the resource for their nutritional needs.

Bowie State University upgraded its previous, smaller food bank to a larger, welcoming space after receiving the $10,000 grant from Food Lion Feeds, Brent Swinton, Bowie’s vice president for institutional advancement, told ABC News. It contains both non-perishable items and fresh produce several times a week as well as toiletries and other supplies.

School administrators decided to create the lounge after noticing a national trend of students needing “extra nourishment” during the day, Swinton said.

About 45% of 86,000 college students nationwide said they experience food insecurity, according to a 2019 survey by the Hope Center for College Community and Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia. Data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study found that 39% of undergraduates fell at or below 130% of the federal poverty line in 2016.

The food pantry is located near the library and computer lab, making it convenient for students to stop by to pick up what they need or hang out in the lounge area, Swinton said. The space was created to encourage students — both on campus and those who commute — to take advantage of the resource and not worry about any stigmas that may be associated with needing help, he added.

Students who may be in need of help include athletes whose scholarships only provide them with a five-day meal plan, leaving them to provide their own meals on the weekends.

Sadiyah Jenkins, a senior psychology major who attended the pantry’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, emphasized the need for the pantry for the student population. She described the space to ABC News as convenient as well as “very fun” and “very welcoming.”

Jenkins plans on going to the bank once or twice a week to grab a few items.

“If I need more, I know I can always come back,” she said.

Currently, the food pantry is open for limited hours but organizers are aiming to extend those hours and ensure it’s running seven days a week, Swinton said. The bank will continue to be stocked by the local Food Lion grocery store and the Capital Area Food Bank as well as by alumni and other local donors.

The university believes that focusing on the needs of students outside the classroom will help them achieve inside the classroom and eventually graduate, Swinton said. It is the first HBCU in Maryland and one of the first in the country to provide such a program, Swinton said.

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