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Feeding the students: A look at USF’s food bank a year later

USF’s Feed-A-Bull food pantry has expanded to support itself with independent donations. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Since its opening one year ago, Feed-A-Bull has provided meals for 15 to 20 students weekly on campus. 

The Center for Student Well-Being partnered with Student Outreach and Support (SOS) to generate an initiative to assist students who are food insecure. Preparation for the food bank began in 2014 and ended in September 2015. 

“Some students struggle with being able to afford basic food needs,” said Katie Jones, co-founder of Feed-A-Bull and registered dietitian for the Center for Student Well-Being.

Located inside the SOS office, the Feed-A-Bull pantry was created as a convenient location for students. Feed-A-Bull supplies food for students, as well as additional hygiene products that are included in their inventory and available to students upon request.  

The organization Feeding America Tampa Bay, a branch of the national organization Feeding America, assisted Feed-A-Bull for the first six months after the pantry launched. Now, the food pantry has received enough donations to confidently work on its own to serve the needs of USF students, according to Jones. 

“The number of students utilizing the food pantry shows the need,” she said.

Nicole Morgan, the senior case manager at the office of SOS and co-facilitator of the food pantry, joined the team in March. Some of Morgan’s responsibilities include supervising volunteers and coordinating food drives for Feed-A-Bull. The successful food drive last year, Charit-A-Bull, is anticipated to begin again in October, according to Morgan.

Feed-A-Bull is not a department and is completely supported by donations. Most donations given to the food bank have been from staff and students. Some students donate to fulfill service requirements for classes. 

A crowdfunding web campaign began three weeks ago to solicit monetary donations to fill the pantry for the upcoming year. The campaign ended today, and it successfully exceeded the goal of $3,500 by almost $100, according to the crowdfunding page at the time of print. 

Maya Baram, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences and president of Feeding America USF, partnered with SOS to assist in the establishment of the food pantry. Baram has been a volunteer since the day Feed-A-Bull opened. 

“When we first started, we had maybe five or six people,” Baram said. “(Feed-A-Bull) has been open today (Sept. 14) for a half an hour, and I’ve helped at least five people.”

Last semester, Baram visited the Feeding America warehouse to pick up nonperishable items. This semester, the pantry no longer receives donations from the warehouse, but Feeding America still provides volunteers for the pantry. 

The pantry is negotiating with other organizations for additional food items.

According to Morgan, the flow of people utilizing Feed-A-Bull remains consistent year-round. However, at certain times of the year there is an increase in donation.

“The holiday time is really crucial as far as food security, so we make sure that students are provided with the food services they need during that time,” Morgan said. 

A full room is divided and organized ranging from the type of food to dietary restrictions such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and food allergies, to fulfill dietary accommodations.

To distribute the food, a student is given a standard list of items to fill into their Feed-A-Bull bag. Students are allowed to stock their bag with two breakfast items; two cans each of fruit, vegetables, a variety of protein options and soup; one box of pasta or rice; and two snack items. 

“My role is to get bags ready, prepare them, sort items, and give to students in need,” Baram said.

Being a dietician, Jones was able to create preplanned meals using the ingredients included in the Feed-A-Bull bags. Options included vegetable fried rice, Three-Bean Taco Soup and cheesy tuna noodle casserole to give students variation for their weekly meals. The pantry also offers pamphlets with recipes for meals.

“A well-balanced meal is especially important for college students,” Jones said. “Hungry minds do not think well.” 

Jones splits her time between the pantry and the Center for Student Well-Being. 

“Definitely, what I like most is the reaction of people,” Baram said. “People are so thankful. A lot of people come here and didn’t know Feed-A-Bull existed. Seeing the impact we make is awesome.” 

Eligibility to receive assistance from Feed-A-Bull is determined by a screening administered to every student to assess the level of food insecurity using standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The survey includes questions pertaining to the quantity and nutritional quality of food eaten, Morgan said. 

If assistance is required, students need a valid USF ID and must also be enrolled in the current semester to qualify. 

“(On the USF campus,) students’ surveys meet the higher level of food insecurity … where they are both hungry and not eating nutritional foods,” Morgan said. “We’ve found that people who are coming really need it. They have the highest level of insecurity.”

Referred to the food bank by his Students of Concern Assistance Team, Jack Doe, who has chosen to remain anonymous and is a junior majoring in computer engineering, has utilized the food bank’s resources since January.

“Feed-A-Bull really helped me have food on the table,” Doe said. “Having a place where I can get food has helped me focus on my studies.”

Thriving off of word of mouth referrals, Feed-A-Bull has produced a “great chain reaction,” Morgan said. 

Students who have further questions are encouraged to visit the SOS offices located in Student Services room 2058. The food pantry is open Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Donations are accepted in the form of rice, pasta, pasta sauce, peanut butter, breakfast foods, soup, macaroni and cheese, or cans of tuna, chicken, beans, fruits or vegetables.