A Pantry For Students, By Students

29 August 2022
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With universities starting back up and students returning for the new academic year, Queen Margaret University graduate, Elouise, reflects on the beneficial student pantry service she helped start at the university with our Food Education manager, Sue.  

This year, I graduated as a dietitian from Queen Margaret University (QMU). I have always had a passion for good food and nutrition and this is why I decided to study Dietetics. I believe that everyone should have access to good food, but sadly we know the reality of the situation is far from this. To help combat this, myself and Sue O'Neill, food education manager at Cyrenians, founded the QMU Food Pantry. 

I first became involved with Cyrenians during one of their free cookery classes that they ran at QMU for first year university students. When the pandemic first started, I contacted Sue to ask if there was any way I could help. I got involved in their food production line, making food to send out to those who were vulnerable or struggling to put food on the table. Conversation sparked between Sue and I, and we discussed that students are a group of the population particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. It was here that the idea of the QMU food pantry was born. In October 2020, with support from Cyrenians FareShare service and the local Co-op, we launched the food pantry amidst the pandemic.

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Since the food pantry began, we have helped to support just over 350 students. I remember the first week that we opened the pantry, we had a mere 20 students attend. However, word quickly spread about the pantry and each week numbers began to build and build. Fast forward to present day and there is a long queue of people waiting from 9am, with the pantry not opening until 10am.   

I think that word of mouth is really powerful among students, as well as social media, both of these have helped us to reach more people. The increasing cost of living has also increased our numbers. Once term starts again this September, I think that the number of attendees will only continue to increase, perhaps exponentially, with it being more expensive to live than ever. We don't want students to have to choose between paying bills or buying food. We hope our pantry can help take some of the pressure off.  

The pantry has also created a real sense of community on campus every Friday morning. It is a real opportunity to socialise! From catching up with one of your friends or making new ones. It felt like a lifeline to many students in 2020 when the pantry began as it was in the midst of a pandemic, and people were struggling not only with access to food, but isolation too. We also provide the opportunity for students to give back to the food pantry by volunteering, which in turn has enabled new friendships to blossom. I personally made so many new friends while running the pantry.

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On top of this, the pantry has challenged students to be creative when cooking and try new things. Every week we have something different available. We have had plantain, kale, celeriac, radishes...the list goes on. We always try and provide a recipe for the less 'mainstream' items to encourage students to give them a go. 

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I’m really proud of helping the QMU community, as far we know in the UK, we are the only university offering such a service, we are the first of our kind. I hope for the pantry to continue for years to come and that this innovation will inspire others. We have had discussions about trying to expand the idea of this pantry to other universities and locations - so who knows what the future will hold! 

Now that I’ve graduated I will sadly be taking a complete step back from the onsite management of the pantry and will be entering the world of work! I’m grateful and thankful that a fantastic group of students have put themselves forward to co-ordinate the pantry for this coming academic year. This means our motto ‘ran by students, for students’, will continue to live on.

Find out more about the QMU student pantry, by visiting their Facebook and Instagram pages.