Maize & Blue Cupboard announced Tuesday that they will be expanding their operation and relocating to a permanent space on Central Campus. Following this week’s soft opening, an official unveiling of the new location at Betsy Barbour Residence Hall will occur this upcoming fall.
Maize & Blue Cupboard, an initiative of the Office of the Vice President for Student Life, began as a student-run organization. The organization initially hosted monthly distribution days, offering produce and groceries to students in need and worked from the Trotter Multicultural Center. After Trotter began undergoing construction, relocating to a building right next to Betsy Barbour, students working at Maize & Blue Cupboard moved to the basement of the Michigan League.
The expansion of the organization and its adoption through the Office of Student Life will allow for the cupboard to distribute daily instead of monthly, Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to grocery items and produce, the new Maize & Blue Cupboard will also offer cookware, toiletries and support services for students. According to the organization’s Maize Pages website, their food options for students are sourced from local food bank Food Gatherers and the Campus Farm, and unused food is then donated to Community Action Network of Washtenaw County.
Alex Bryan is the manager of the U-M Sustainable Food Program and a staff member at Maize & Blue Cupboard. Bryan identified the need for accessible food for students, especially because a full-service grocery store is not located on the University’s campus. Bryan explained that the Food Sustainability Program teamed up with organizations like the Office of Student Life, Wolverine Wellness, the Office of Financial Aid and CAPS to form a task force and determine the need behind this initiative.
“There is need here, there are students that are going hungry, there are students that are surviving on ramen at best, that aren’t getting the full nutrition that they need,” Bryan said. “We put together a working group … to make sure that we got everyone on the same page that we identified, ‘Yes, there’s a need.’”
Now that Student Life has taken on this project and worked to curate a permanent location on campus, the students behind Maize & Blue Cupboard are working to establish a new organization, temporarily named “MBCB Consulting,” that ensures students are still a part of the process.
Business sophomore Spencer Baxter joined Maize & Blue Cupboard in 2018 and served as vice president of operations this past fall. He was recently elected co-president. Baxter explained Student Life’s role in taking over the student organization left the current students to determine their next steps on their own, which will include smaller projects focusing on increasing engagement and limiting food waste within the new facility. Instead of student volunteers, Student Life will be hiring full-time employees to oversee the organization
“That kind of defeats our purpose because we were sort of a less committal organization … there are some people that would want to volunteer but not volunteer if someone is getting paid next to them,” Baxter said. “We want (to create) a part-time paid staff position to incentivize people to come.”
Food insecurity has been a widely discussed topic on campus in recent years, noting the lack of food resources available on and near campus. According to a study from 2016, 41.4 percent of Michigan students had low to very low food security. Campus groups like Maize & Blue Cupboard and Student Food Co. have been working to combat the issue for years, garnering support from Central Student Government and other student organizations.
CSG has implemented an Emergency Meal Fund program for students, which offers meal swipes to food-insecure students while they explore further options with the Dean of Students Office. Additionally, former CSG President Daniel Greene, a Public Policy senior, signed an executive order to establish the Food Insecurity and Campus Affordability Task Force, which went into effect this past fall.
LSA sophomore Ben Gerstein, incoming Central Student Government president, also noted past initiatives through CSG to help combat food insecurity for students and explained that the incoming assembly will work to prioritize this issue for the next school year.
“I think it’s a great development for the student body here, and it’s going to be a consistent strong resource for students,” Gerstein said. “In Ann Arbor and on campus, food is extremely expensive, and being able to have that in a pretty good location for students to access whenever they need … is really important.”