While it is unknown how many nursing students are hungry at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), there are certainly some.
So, in fall 2022, Yolanda VanRiel, Ph.D., chair of the nursing department, came up with an idea: a food pantry specifically for nursing students.
Dominique Williams of Nursing Students Services took the lead on the project. She started by getting advice from the NCCU Campus Pantry, which opened in 2014.
“I had no previous knowledge about how to operate a food pantry,” Williams said. “How they get funding, how to get students to do the work to maintain the space and keep it clean.”
Alumna Loretta Holloway (and wife of NCCU Board of Trustees Chairman Kevin Holloway) donated $5,000. And on April 27, the food pantry opened in room 1311 on the first floor of the Nursing Building.
At first, the pantry got limited use. When it opened, students were taking finals or leaving for summer break.
“I think some of the students were not afraid but sort of timid about coming in,” said Williams. “We started having conversations with them.”
One of those students was Trevor Cooper, now a senior and co-president of the NCCU chapter of the Student Nursing Association.
“I discovered the pantry over the summer when I came in to do a CPR course,” Cooper said. The Student Nursing Association spread the word among students and requested donations from others.
Alexis Ross, the other co-president of the Student Nursing Association, found out about the pantry the beginning of the fall semester. “A peer told me about it,” Ross, a senior, said. “I shared it with my class.”
Ross describes the need for a food pantry as “moderate to strong” among nursing students.
“Having a free source of food with something nourishing has made a difference. It has lowered our stress.”
At least as important, access to food improves their performance.
“When students are hungry, they can’t learn,” VanRiel said.
Today, students obtain food from the pantry daily. While asked to fill out a short paper form, there is no proof required of low income.
“There is a need if it is used daily,” Cooper said.
Though food pantries are not new to the NCCU campus – the NCCU Campus Pantry in the Miller-Morgan Health Sciences Building and Transitions Pantry in the Student Services Building have both been in existence longer – those are less easy for nursing students to access.
The Nursing Building is located on the eastern border of campus and students tend to be busy.
“Nursing students have 12-hour clinical shifts they do,” Williams said. “They are in classes fulltime. Many work and have families. Having something where they can literally get out of class and walk to is the main reason.”
The reasons for hunger among nursing students vary. VanRiel notes that many students use their meal plan allotment before the end of the academic year and food prices in general have increased due to inflation.
“Many of our students are working,” Williams said. “Some have families to support. Many of our students are on Pell grants (financial aid). The support they get from family and friends may be limited.”
She adds, “We really don’t talk enough about (hunger). People assume students are in college and they can afford certain items and that just is not true.”
Currently, the pantry stocks shelved goods including canned fruits and vegetables, macaroni, ramen, tuna, peanut butter, canned pasta, cereal and other items. It is open from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and by appointment.
Over time, the pantry would like to offer fresh produce, perhaps toiletries and obtain a refrigerator for fresh foods.