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University of Tennessee launches new food pantry program

The Big Orange Pantry will be open 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, with online ordering and in-store pickup options available.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Vols don't let Vols go hungry, so the University of Tennessee is opening a new food pantry to help stop food insecurity among the campus community especially in a world still grappling with a pandemic. 

"COVID has put a lot of pressure on people from people losing part-time jobs to family members losing jobs," Office of the Dean of Students interim assistant director of outreach and initiatives, Abigail Brumfield said.

Current UT students, staff and faculty members can use The Big Orange Pantry. The program started Wednesday and will be open from 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. People will be able to receive food by first applying to use the pantry. 

"People have all different types of journeys, you never know what people are going through," Brumfield said.

Then, they can fill out an online form, where they can tell officials about dietary restrictions. Staff will reach out and confirm a time when the user can pick up their food.

By implementing an online ordering system, officials said they can maintain social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As a society, there are cultural norms we hold around college students such as eating ramen noodles and being broke, but that frame of thought has some really harmful effects,” said Betsy Anderson Steeves, a professor with the Department of Nutrition. "Ideally, the Big Orange Pantry can provide the support students and any users need to be healthy and successful.”

The Big Orange Pantry is located on the ground floor of Greve Hall. Officials said the pantry will expand to operating four days per week and by private appointments in the spring semester.

“We want the pantry to be a place where people don’t feel stigma but feel like it’s a shopping experience instead,” said Abigail Brumfield, interim assistant director in the Office of the Dean of Students. “The pantry is built on client choice, and I’m excited because we have content experts from across campus working together.” 

Officials said that the Big Orange Pantry is part of a larger push to stop food security at UT. They said that antihunger groups, faculty experts and student advocates have worked together to provide food resources after a study found one in three students at UT are food insecure.

As the holidays get closer, Brumfield said they will not be open but do have an option for those who need assistance.

"Our office is aware that folks' holidays will look different," she said. "We do plan to do private appointments, we would like to make sure we can assist people."

From a broader perspective, Elaine Streno at Second Harvest said food banks are going to be vital not only for college students but families as a whole with more people reaching out who never had to before. 

"There were more people calling us with more desperation in their voice ... saying, 'I've never had to do this, I don't know how to do this, how do I feed my children?'" Streno said. 

Her team is now working on helping their community partners prepare to feed people for the holidays. You can find out how you can help here.