There's just one more thing a new pantry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln really needs: more student customers.
On Friday, the OpeN Shelf pantry got its first two.
It opened Aug. 26 in the Lutheran Center, 535 N. 16th St., and provides free personal hygiene products, laundry detergent and nonperishable foods to UNL students.
“Our hope is that students will find that this is an environment of respect and dignity,” said Kelli Smith, assistant director for UNL Career Services. “If for some reason they don’t, we’re trying to make it as easy as possible for them to get some assistance.”
Should students be concerned about picking up items themselves, they can ask staff members in their residence halls to do it for them, Smith said.
It’s the first free pantry for students at UNL, she said.
Smith decided to help after hearing about struggling students, including one who couldn’t afford laundry detergent and another who was working five jobs, one of which involved cleaning offices at night, she said.
“It just didn’t seem right that we had any students who would be struggling to that extent.”
Smith spoke to Scott Young, director of the Food Bank of Lincoln, and members of his staff. The food bank serves poor college students at various sites but doesn’t have a pantry that caters directly to them, Young said.
But the need clearly exists, he said. Indeed, a recent report that examined census data showed 3.5 percent of Lincoln’s residents are college students living within federal poverty guidelines.
Across the country, colleges are opening pantries and more than 50 now offer some kind of pantry service for students. They include the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Arkansas, University of Georgia and Utah Valley University.
Michigan State is the only other Big Ten institution to offer a campus pantry program.
UNL Student Affairs has provided funds for the pantry, while the Lutheran Center has provided a free location. University Housing plans to help distribute pantry items, and the Food Bank of Lincoln and the Lutheran Center plan to help collect donations.
The pantry is non-denominational and open to all UNL students. No forms need be filled out to access it, and student use will remain confidential, Smith said.
Fall semester hours are 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Mondays and 2 to 5 p.m. Fridays. Students can email email@example.com to make appointments if they wish.
“We’re not planning to ask a whole bunch of questions,” Smith said. “We want to make it easy.”
Megan Rudolph, a sophomore accounting major from Lincoln and a member of the Lutheran Center, spearheaded the project this summer as part of an AmeriCorps service project.
Smith said she’s hopeful the pantry will help fulfill some unmet needs of UNL’s struggling student population.
“The dedication our students have to get an education is really unbelievable at times,” she said.