Cougar Pantry Upgrades Address Student Food Insecurity
Kean University is fighting food insecurity among students with an upgraded food pantry, offering students online ordering and 24/7 confidential access to food and other essentials.
Located in the Wellness Center in Downs Hall on Kean’s Union campus, Cougar Pantry has seen usage increase dramatically since the new system, with pick-up lockers, launched last month.
“We have already experienced an increase in utilization of Cougar Pantry and we hope to continue to address and tackle both basic needs and food insecurity at Kean University,” said Genique Stanislaus, executive director of the Kean Wellness Center.
"The improvements allow our community care coordinator, Carla Vitola, to better understand who is utilizing the pantry. Our automated system paints a picture of this population, which affords Kean the chance to decrease food insecurity,” Stanislaus added. “The new food lockers increase access for students to retrieve food and basic-need items at a more convenient time for them.”
Vitola said the number of students using Cougar Pantry has already tripled this semester from the previous semester.
“In America, we do not have a ‘food issue.’ The issue is accessing food and resources,” Vitola said. “Being able to retrieve items 24/7 gives the working student, the student who is a parent, and the student who does not have a vehicle readily available, access to basic items.”
“Kean has an extremely resilient and resourceful group of students; giving them access to these basic-needs items helps them persist to graduation and beyond,” Vitola added.
Cougar Pantry was established in 2019. The new pantry is an unmistakable sight in the Wellness Center: The lockers, which were purchased as a result of an NJ Hunger Free Campus Grant from the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, are decorated with a colorful design of fruits and vegetables and the Kean logo.
All Kean students with food insecurity needs may use the pantry by placing an order via the SmartChoice Online Shopping Portal. Students meet with Vitola to gain access to SmartChoice. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Once an order is filled, students receive a unique code and barcode. They visit the pantry when convenient, and tap in or scan the barcode to open a locker holding their order.
Students choose from many non-perishable foods – soups, pasta and sauce, canned fruit, vegetables, tuna and chicken, microwave-ready meals, quinoa and rice, oatmeal, varieties of beans, peanut butter and much more.
New this semester are perishable foods – such as frozen beef, fresh fruit and vegetables, and salad kits with lettuce grown on campus at Kean and in the Liberty Hall Gardens. The kits are part of NOURISH, a research project funded in part by a National Science Foundation grant awarded to Hennings College. Assistant Biology Professor Kim Spaccarotella, Ph.D., and biology Lecturer Sasmita Mishra, Ph.D., worked with students on the project.
“We hope that the produce and nutrition education materials will make healthy eating more accessible to the campus community,” Spaccarotella said.
Also available are cooking items such as pots, pans and cutting boards; and personal-care items from shampoos to feminine hygiene products. There are currently 335 items on the shopping platform.
Most food items are donated by the Community Food Bank of New Jersey or through food drives and donations from the Kean community.
Tackling food insecurity is just one Wellness Center initiative. Through Cougar Pantry Career Closet and its Cougar Pop-Up Shop, the Center also recently outfitted 360 Kean students with professional attire.
One Kean student called the pantry offerings “wonderful.”
“I'm excited about the new upgrades!” said junior Angel Ihie, a cell and molecular biology student, who is co-chair of the President’s Advisory Council. “As a resident on campus, I am deeply grateful for services such as the pantry. The provision of items such as toiletries, food items and my personal favorite, the pop-up career clothing, adds to a richer and less stressful college experience for me.”
For more information on the Cougar Pantry, please visit https://www.kean.edu/cougar-pantry.