It's hard to learn—let alone complete a college degree program—on an empty stomach.
That fact is the driving force behind a new initiative at the University of Michigan-Dearborn: the student food pantry. Organized by the Community Involvement and Volunteerism Center, the pantry offers food and toiletries to students in need.
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Assistant director of civic engagement Amy Karaban, who spearheaded the effort, said the idea came about when staff at the college combined an institutional knowledge about issues of hunger on campuswith the realization that many UM-Dearborn students were just plain hungry.
"You're wondering if there's an event on campus that has free food," she explained.
"I've known so many students where there's a big gap between what they make and what they need," she added. "It's hard to ask for help."
CIViC makes it easy to get help.
The food pantry is open to any student. All visits are registered in order for the office to keep track, but otherwise, visitors are left to decide what they need—macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, peanut butter, canned fruit, shampoo—and how much of it.
Karaban said they looked at similar food pantries at Michigan State University and Schoolcraft, and decided to model their in a way that allows students to take what they need.
"I don't want to send green beans home to a family that hates green beans," Karaban said.
However, the office hopes to incorporate information about nutrition issues and long-term resource options such as United Way and Gleaners by the time they officially open on Jan. 21, 2013.
The opening will coincide with the college's 20th annual MLK Day of Service.
Until then, Karaban said they're not turning people away, and are starting to see more donations roll in from individuals and student groups. So far, they've received around 520 pounds of food.
Special events coordinator within the Office of the Chancellor Karen Holland is one of those individuals, and told UM-Dearborn newsletter The Reporter that she's happy to help.
“We know there is a need on campus. There are students on campus who do not get enough to eat, and the food pantry is helping to fill that need,” Holland said. “I might not be able to donate as much money, but I can sure give them things to use.”
It's hard to say what the need will be like when word gets out more, but Karaban said she'll be thrilled every time they help one person get the food they need so that they can go back to focusing on learning.
"Often when you take on a big project ... you move to a state of paralysis because you don't know where to start," she said. "We have a pantry that is small, but we're helping a lot of people."
To donate, or to learn more, contact Karaban at 313-593-6589.