UW-Madison Establishes On-Campus Food Pantry for Students in Need

The University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison is about to join the more than 120 U.S. colleges and universities that house a food pantry on their campuses. Student working group Associated Students of Madison (ASM) is working to launch the pantry, which will begin serving students in February.

Called the Open Seat, the food pantry will serve college students who struggle to afford food — students whose needs often go unnoticed, advocates say. With help from UW-Madison students, like Brooke Evans, these students will have access to food donated to the pantry.

Evans, who used to be homeless, once struggled to afford meals herself and was forced to make weekly trips to a food pantry on the city’s north side. Now with a place to live and government assistance to pay for groceries, she is working to make things easier for other students in need.

“It’s clear that we need something like this,” Kyla Kaplan, vice chairwoman of ASM, told the Wisconsin State Journal. “Food insecurity is a bigger issue than people realize.”

While there are several food pantries in Madison, hungry students may struggle to manage classes and schoolwork with jobs, leaving little time to visit off-campus pantries. UW-Madison’s Open Seat, however — which will be located inside the Student Activities Center on campus — will provide students easy access to food when they need it, leaving them more time to focus on their studies.

Evans told the Wisconsin State Journal that she believes having the pantry on campus will give students “the opportunity to live the most standard life, like the rest of their peers do.”

While no information is available on the number of students at UW-Madison who struggle to pay for food, a recent survey by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab — which researches issues that affect college students from low-income families — provides a glimpse into how widespread the issue may be. Based at UW-Madison, the HOPE Lab found that 22 percent of students at 10 community and technical colleges across the country reported they skipped meals because they couldn’t afford to eat.

The lab, which Evans works at, is currently working to collect data on UW-Madison students.

This year, about $20,000 from student segregated fees will go toward hiring staff and covering the operational costs of the Open Seat, which will begin serving students in February. The pantry is based on a similar concept at UW-Stevens Point.

Because student government rules bar UW-Madison organizations from using fee money to pay for food, ASM must collect food through donations. The group has already set out bins around campus to begin gathering canned and boxed goods.

Evans is also working to support low-income students and those living in poverty in other ways, including establishing an emergency shelter for homeless students in university housing.

Although many people are aware of how poverty affects children, Evans said those problems don’t go away when someone turns 18. And she believes Open Seat will help address a critical need.

“You don’t automatically become middle class when you start college,” she said.