With a mission to raise awareness of hidden hunger on college campuses, Tennessee Tech’s food pantry is a network for food acquisition, storage, and distribution to alleviate hunger among the campus community. The pantry is set up like a grocery store so clients can experience a regular shopping experience. They are given a basket and told how many items they can select, based on their household size. The food pantry has always been a critical resource for the Tech campus, but no one could have predicted just how critical it would become in 2020.
In the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, tornadoes ripped through Middle Tennessee causing 19 fatalities, 88 injuries, and damage to 500 buildings in the City of Cookeville alone. More than 100 families—including Tech faculty, staff, and students—lost everything. A few weeks later, COVID-19 began affecting the way we all live, work, and learn, and many students lost their jobs.
No one would say that 2020 has been easy for students, but Tech is fortunate to have a resource like the food pantry to help students who are struggling with food insecurity.
Tennessee Tech students voted to include a drive for the food pantry as part of this year’s Homecoming activities. Student organizations compete to see who can raise the most money for the pantry, and alumni, donors, and the entire Golden Eagle community are invited to join Tech students in this campaign. Donors can choose to have their gift to the pantry benefit a campus organization in the Homecoming competition if they wish, or they can simply make a gift on their own.
“Choosing to use the food pantry was a difficult decision for me. I had always been self-reliant and steadily employed and helped my family any way that I could. For a long time, I would not accept help in any form because of the perceived stigma attached. But I decided to give it a try because I was in what felt like a desperate situation and because my family was depending on me. The pantry provided enough to keep me afloat, and I am very thankful for the help that I received. It was not a handout; it was a help up, and I fully plan on being a donor to the pantry after I leave Tech.”
--anonymous food pantry client
“We have helped single mothers get through college. We have helped individual students who did not have meal plans. We have helped parents with kids who were just trying to finish their degree. Not having to choose between books or groceries makes a big difference and is a bigger help than what we realize sometimes.”
--Michelle Huddleston, assistant director of Service Learning and Community Engagement
The March tornadoes and COVID-19 have resulted in more students relying on the pantry’s services than ever before. In 2012, the Food Pantry served five people each week. This grew to 12 each week in 2015. Now, approximately 40 people are served each week, and many are returning visitors.