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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Vowing that hunger should never be a barrier to education, University of Florida officials dedicated the campus’ newest enterprise addressing hunger within the UF community, the Field and Fork Pantry, with a ceremony Sept. 1 that was light-hearted and celebratory yet charged with a sense of urgency and purpose.
“It doesn’t get any better than this, this is a special morning,” President Kent Fuchs said as he addressed the audience of about 150 gathered under a large tent next to the food pantry, located by the Food Science and Human Nutrition building on the central UF campus. “With (the organizers’ shared desire to help the needy) and with your remarkable spirit of optimism and action, I feel that there’s no limit to what we can create together for our campus, our community, our country and, indeed, actually, for the planet.”
The 40-minute event occurred almost four months to the day after the facility’s groundbreaking May 5, and followed a year-long effort by several campus units to establish a campuswide food pantry for students and employees, Fuchs said.
The president credited the project’s success to enthusiastic cooperation among participants that included the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Dean of Students Office, the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, UF Student Government, the College of Engineering, the Office for Student Financial Affairs, Gator Dining Services and Aramark, the UF International Center, members of the University-Wide Pantry Planning Committee, and members of the food pantry’s parent organization, the Field and Fork Campus Food Program. The Bread of the Mighty Food Bank was a significant community partner as well, Fuchs noted.
Next to speak was Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and the top administrator for UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or UF/IFAS, which provides programmatic and financial support for the project. Payne related how he’d become aware two years ago that food pantries had been established at other universities, and was spurred to request an exploratory survey on hunger at UF. Researchers found that of 1,800 students responding, 10 percent said they had gone hungry at least once during the previous academic year.
Moved by this revelation, Payne began considering how UF/IFAS could help; he then contacted several key campus units and learned that similar plans were being contemplated or developed by other top administrators. Recognizing their common purpose, everyone agreed to collaborate.
Before concluding his remarks, Payne provided a pleasant surprise, an informal announcement that Alan and Cathy Hitchcock, former owners of the Hitchcock’s supermarket chain, had pledged a leadership gift to help support the $290,000 second phase of construction for the food pantry. The food pantry currently occupies a 900-square-foot building that cost $172,000 to renovate and prepare for use; adjacent space for build-out is available. The Hitchcocks will also provide organizers with valuable advice on supermarket design, to help with expansions.
“We need every future leader we can enlist to pursue the Gator Good of feeding the world,” Payne said. “After all, we need to produce more food in the coming decades than we have since the beginning of agriculture, 10,000 years ago. By helping hungry Gators now, we help feed the future.”
The event actually marked the food pantry’s ninth day of operations, following a soft opening Aug. 11. As of Sept. 2, 140 visitors had been served — about half of them students and half UF staff members — and 1,862 pounds of food provided, said UF Campus Food Systems Coordinator Anna Prizzia, who co-hosted the dedication ceremony with Assistant Dean of Students Tanja Philhower. The women also co-chaired the University-Wide Pantry Planning Committee.
Operationally, the food pantry is a shared effort between the Dean of Students Office and UF/IFAS, Prizzia said. The Dean of Students Office handles the day-to-day coordination of food pantry activities, including such tasks as acquiring, training and managing staff members, handling inventory, keeping records, and arranging for receipt and storage of donations. Personnel with UF/IFAS provide programmatic support by conducting educational workshops and providing science-based literature for visitors. Additionally, UF/IFAS personnel provide advice on technical matters such as food safety practices and nutritional guidelines.
The next speaker, Vice President for Student Affairs Dave Kratzer, once had hungry students visiting offices in the Division of Student Affairs in desperation, seeking referrals to a food bank or soup kitchen. Kratzer said he quickly familiarized himself with the issue of campus hunger and, like Payne, began exploring ways of establishing a campus food pantry.
“At Florida, students matter,” Kratzer said emphatically. “I encourage all students to participate, supporting one another, exploring the farm-to-table values that are vital to our past and our future.”
Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Charlie Lane followed with an array of facts about the building, which was selected because it offered a central location, ease of access and a measure of privacy for visitors. Built in 1969 to house a water chilling plant, the one-story structure was extensively remodeled this year, adding a bright, cheerful interior that includes a food preparation area with stainless steel prep tables and sinks, movable shelving units stacked with canned goods and other non-perishable foods, an ADA-compliant entrance and restroom, office space and an inviting “checkout counter” where student employees greet visitors and offer literature on nutrition and other relevant topics.
The second phase of construction will include installation of refrigerated cases and freezers to hold fresh produce, meat and dairy items, said Lane, whose office partially funds the project. He said there will also be new construction to enclose adjacent property and potentially double or triple the food pantry’s size.
The roster of speakers was rounded out by UF Student Body President Joselin Padron-Rasines, who has promoted the food pantry via Student Government initiatives; Marcia Conwell, president and chief executive officer with Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, who expressed her gratitude that the food pantry has become a reality; and food pantry employee Logan Ham, a current UF engineering student who related his own story about coping with hunger as an undergraduate new to Gainesville.
When the ceremony ended, many in attendance ventured inside the building. The front window features the distinctive Field and Fork Campus Food Program logo, with a white fork-and-leaf image.
Future initiatives associated with the food pantry and presented by the Field and Fork Campus Food Program include classes in cooking, food budgeting, nutrition and other topics related to food, sustainability and wellness; the first classes will begin this fall, Prizzia said.
More produce should be available at the food pantry soon, much of it grown on campus at the UF Community Farm and donated by growers through the Field and Fork Campus Food Program, she said. Classes in gardening will be added to the educational offerings soon.
Lastly, the food pantry will offer expanded service learning opportunities for students beginning soon.
“We want to provide learning experiences as well as service,” Prizzia said.
Jack Payne explained that the project’s long-term goals reach beyond providing needed meals. Ultimately, it’s hoped that members of the community will use the resources and opportunities offered by the Field and Fork Campus Food Program and improve their lives to the point where they can avoid future hunger threats.
“It’s a whole anti-hunger program,” he said, during his remarks to the crowd. “It’s how we’ll make our impact last longer than just one day.”
The Field and Fork Pantry is located at 564 Newell Drive. Hours are Tuesday 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The food pantry welcomes anyone with a valid UF identification card. All resources are offered free of charge and there is no proof of need required, but organizers ask visitors to be mindful that the food pantry is intended to provide a safety net for those who can’t afford to purchase all the groceries they need.
Photo caption: On Tuesday morning, Sept. 1, 2015, speakers cut a ribbon to officially open the Field and Fork Pantry, a new facility that assists students and staff members who can’t afford to purchase groceries and meet their other financial obligations. From left, the photo includes Anna Prizzia, Jack Payne, Logan Ham, Kent Fuchs, Joselin Padron-Rasines, Cathy Hitchcock, Alan Hitchcock, Tanja Philhower, Dave Kratzer. UF/IFAS photo by Tyler L. Jones