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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Supporting students one meal at a time

Panthers Against Hunger combats food insecurity on campus
Panthers Against Hunger provides a new opportunity for students to donate up to 20 dining dollars to help provide other students with a hot meal.

The Dean of Students, the Panther Pantry, and the UNI Dining Department are bringing a new support system for students in need to campus. Aptly named Panthers Against Hunger, the program looks to combat food insecurity on campus by providing hot meals to students in need. 

The program is a collaborative effort from the minds of Connie Hansen, the Associate Director of Student Involvement and overseer of the Panther Pantry, and Allyson Rafanello, the Dean of Students, who oversees the Student Emergency Fund, which provides “limited emergency financial assistance to currently enrolled students.”

The Panther Pantry, founded in 2019, is a program on campus that gives free food and other basic toiletries and necessities to students in need. It is mostly run by student volunteers and is recognized as an official campus organization. In a study conducted by UNI in 2019, it was found that 51% of students were food insecure. The Panther Pantry was created as a resource to help support students struggling with food insecurity, but as Hansen notes it is not a foolproof solution to solving hunger on campus. 

“We are always looking for ways to serve students and provide resources across campus,” Hansen said. “But, the pantry is not meant to be treated as a grocery store for students to use every single week, but rather as a supplemental source to help students fill in the gaps when they come up.”

An all-access food plan on campus costs $4,664—a cost some students may struggle to pay. The Panthers Against Hunger program came about after Hansen and Rafanello realized that a lot of the same students were repeatedly coming back to the Panther Pantry and Dean’s office to look for assistance.

However, Hansen also acknowledged that sometimes students may hit a bump in the road, and they may need more than what the pantry can provide.  With this in mind, Hansen met with representatives from UNI’s sister colleges, the University of Iowa and Iowa State to discuss their Swipe for Hunger programs. She then decided that something similar was needed at UNI to assist Panthers who required assistance. 

Hansen and Rafanello partnered with UNI Dining to create a way for struggling students to receive hot meals, and take the debilitating worry of food insecurity off of their shoulders. The program is funded through donations, and all the money received will go towards buying dining passes which will then be allocated to students through the Dean of Students office. Between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2, students had the opportunity to donate up to $20 worth of their dining dollars to help fund the program. Additionally, faculty, staff, alumni and community members can make a donation to the program. All donations can be made on the Dean of Students website, underneath the “Panthers Against Hunger” tab–donations can be made at any time and in any amount. 

“The program is more than just hot meals, by getting one of these dining passes it allows the students an opportunity to reach out and get access to more resources if they need them,” Rafanello said. “Also, a lot of times if you are having a rough time, being able to sit down with peers and have a hot meal and a good conversation together can really boost your attitude.” 

If students are in a situation where they need a little extra assistance, they can find additional details and the application forms for both the Panthers Against Hunger program and the Student Emergency Fund on the Dean of Students website. From those resources students can also be connected to other helpful resources, both on and off campus. Additionally, for students who may not feel comfortable reaching out, there is a form online where people can request the office to reach out to a student who may be struggling. 

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    Cindy AndersonOct 11, 2023 at 7:36 pm

    Great article Jo. Very informative.