As students put down security deposits on a place to live next year, many begin to think about the realities of living off campus. Beyond the costs of rent, utilities and Internet access, managing a food budget can be difficult, especially when a minimum two-term off-campus meal plan costs $1,900.
According to a survey conducted by the University student organization Student Food Co., 40 percent of University students face food insecurity or a lack of access to nutritious food.
Understanding that many off-campus students face this challenge, Business junior Forest Burczak and Business sophomore Wesley Zhu launched the University’s first student-run food pantry last year.
Both Burczak and Zhu are members of the University’s chapter of Enactus, an international nonprofit that aims to use entrepreneurship to improve quality of life for those in need.
After spending one semester pitching their idea to Food Gatherers, a nonprofit food bank in Ann Arbor, the project kicked off in the Winter 2014 semester with a pilot event at First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor on East Washington Street. Organizers distributed food collected from local grocery stores that would have otherwise been wasted. The program attracted mostly graduate students with children.
The most recent food distribution event on Nov. 5 drew about 10 attendees, again mostly graduate students.
Looking back on the first two events, both students said they are now focusing most of their efforts on promoting their project to the student body.
“We are working a lot on marketing right now. We want Diag flyers, get a Diag board and also get them on bus signs,” Zhu said.
Burczak said a social media presence is also important.
“We made a page for the event and we try to get enough people to like it so that the next time, we don’t have to do flyers each time we hold an event,” he said.
During the first stage of their project, Burczak and Zhu sought advice from Nate Smith-Tyge, founder and director of the Michigan State University Food Bank, the first student food pantry in the United States.
In an interview with USA Today, Smith-Tyge said more than 50 institutions of higher education have programs that distribute food to those in need.
Smith-Tyge said he rarely encountered universities while working with Burczak and Zhu that weren’t entirely supportive of the projects.
However, Zhu said the group experienced several challenges implementing the project at the University. He said the Office of Financial Aid declined to list the program in its newsletter and the group had trouble finding faculty members to support the project.
Enactus maintains a goal of holding two food distribution events per month. Organizers are collaborating with Student Food Co. to help them promote the events, as well as with student community service organization Circle K to provide volunteers.
“Our club’s goal is to start an entrepreneurial project, work on it as a club for a few years, and slowly bring in clubs like Student Food Co. to eventually manage the project themselves and put in the man hours themselves because we have established everything for them and from there, they just have to execute the project,” Burczak said.
The next distribution event is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 3 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at First Baptist Church.