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Clemson food pantry combats food insecurity

As students pass the Union by each day, they may notice an empty Harcombe, the old Chili’s and other empty rooms. But at the end of the abandoned, they’ll find the Paw Pantry.

Celebrating their third anniversary this spring, the Paw Pantry is a student initiative focused on dealing with the tough challenge of food insecurity on campus. Relying completely on donations and run by volunteers, the Pantry provides food, hygienic products and school supplies to those in need. 

And though it began in the Union, the Paw Pantry plans to expand on their model, moving into the old POD market’s location in the Union. The move should be complete by the end of the semester, giving the Pantry a larger space to continue their mission.

The original idea behind the Pantry had distribution relying on meal plans, which although helpful, would have greatly limited the Pantry’s overall impact in the community. In its current format, the Paw Pantry is able to reach out to all students, including graduate and international students. While limited to 10 items per student, the Paw Pantry operates by the motto, “Take what you need, need what you take.”

Hayley McKay and Chloe Schockling, co-directors for the Paw Pantry, explained a challenge the Paw Pantry faces is not just hunger but also the stigma and pressure students may feel in the beginning. McKay and Schockling also enforced the effort they put into working with the volunteers so that students coming to the pantry feel comfortable every time, and know it is a safe space for them.

“We try to bring a diverse group to our volunteer team,” Schockling said. “It’s important for our clients to have a face they recognize and identify with — someone who may understand a different aspect of their Clemson experience.” 

Another obstacle the Pantry has seen is difficulty with certain donations, such as expired food or nutritionally insufficient items like a giant vat of nacho cheese. They stressed that all donations are welcomed but ask that donors pay attention to the need and viability of the items given.

“That goes back to people’s understanding of what food insecurity actually is — it goes deeper than hunger,” McKay said. “While hunger is the main umbrella term of food insecurity, the bigger thing is an inconsistent access to nutritionally adequate food that they can obtain in a socially acceptable way.”

All donations are helpful, even the expired foods, which McKay and Schockling said they donate to soup kitchens capable of determining whether the food can still be used. Some items that are always in demand include canned meats, canned fruits, peanut butter, whole grain items, gluten free options, school supplies and hygienic products. They take donations during their operating hours and can also pick up donations if needed.

Looking towards the future, the Paw Pantry wants to raise awareness about the pantry so that all students know that this resource is available, even going so far as starting a “Orange Couch Conversation” on their Instagram page where they highlight volunteers and clients who are helped by the pantry. The initiative also utilizes food drives, currently partnering up with Clemson English professors and Loaves & Fishes for the annual Writer’s Harvest on Nov. 14.

Speaking about the future, McKay said, “If we really are a Clemson family, we need a bigger table.”

The application form to become a Paw Pantry volunteer will be open at the end of November. McKay and Schockling can be reached at [email protected] for more information. The initiative can also be found through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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