Tucked between the Thomas Cooper Library and McBryde Quadrangle A is the Gamecock Pantry: the volunteer-run food pantry dedicated to alleviating food insecurity for anyone with a CarolinaCard.
The donation based pantry is small and compact in its space attached to the McBryde building, but a look inside reveals shelves of food, both canned and fresh, and toiletries. Sitting inconspicuously behind McBryde, the pantry is often overlooked. Volunteer Nicole Frattaroli recalls when she first found out about it she thought, “Oh, yeah, that’s there.”
Columbia is wracked with food insecurity, with almost a quarter of the population living in poverty and 11% of households not getting sufficient food. Part of the reason for the high rate of food insecurity in our area is the lack of food availability. South Carolina suffered the loss of several grocery stores recently, leaving many without an affordable and accessible food source. The COVID-19 pandemic only elevated the issue as many lost their jobs and financial stability. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides benefits to low income families who have trouble getting adequate food, received a 50% increase in applications since last March.
While food insecurity soars on the larger geographical scale, many people on campus also experience its effects. The Gamecock Pantry is working to change that.
“Being involved in the pantry has made me realize how prevalent food insecurity is on college campuses nationwide,” pantry Director Emilie Brady said. “I think many people don’t realize that issues like hunger and homelessness affect college kids too.”
The idea of accepting food from a pantry intimidates some people. Many Americans consider the “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” attitude as an integral part of the national identity, which only reinforces the idea that asking for help is something that should be shameful. Considering the toxic public discourse surrounding social benefits, it's common for people to feel ashamed or embarrassed when confronted with food insecurity.
“The more people come and see the environment they see there is nothing embarrassing about it,” said junior volunteer Catherine Dixon. “It does not matter,” she said.
Frattoroli echoed this, and said that one of her favorite parts of volunteering at the pantry is the community that she found there. Often, people avoid going to a pantry out of fear that they will be met with pity, but that is certainly not the case. In fact, Nabeeha Baig, who began volunteering this semester, said that the environment of the pantry is what made her decide to join.
Unlike some food pantries, the Gamecock Pantry has no restrictions on who can receive its benefits; the only requirement is that recipients are affiliated with the campus and have a CarolinaCard. Sometimes it is hard to acknowledge that you could use some extra help, that is why there is no rule for who can or cannot benefit from the Gamecock Pantry. Its services are for everyone.
For instance, Baig mentions how most freshmen only have 2 meal swipes a day, which is rarely enough. The pantry gives students “more options in getting food and staying healthy,” Baig said.
The pantry operates on a point-based system. Each customer is designated 15 points per week, which they then trade in for items. Some food, like bread and other perishable items, don’t cost any points at all. When I visited, the fridge was stocked with bread from Panera Bread, but the food is ever changing.
Donations can be made by anyone, not just residents of the area. The pantry ensures that distance does not impede people’s ability to donate and accept shipments. It has its own amazon wish list, so parents or anyone else interested in donating can know what goods are needed and can then ship it to the pantry. Dixon said that the list, which consists of items ranging from toothpaste to mug cakes to chicken noodle soup, allows “parents to get involved in students' lives on campus.”
Brady urges people to donate so that the Gamecock Pantry can continue providing food for the community. “As director, my biggest goal is to expand our inventory,” Brady said. Since the pantry relies completely on donations, the pantry’s stock fluctuates.
“We are always asking for donations,” Brady said. “People can drop them off at the pantry of LSC any time!”
So instead of letting that one can of pinto beans sit in your pantry for weeks on end, consider paying a visit to the pantry. Even if it is only one donation and you think it won’t make a difference, it will.
Stop by the Gamecock Pantry to donate or to grab some extra nourishment!