UTHSC Mobile Food Pantry Addressing Food Insecurity in the Community

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Volunteers line up as they await vehicles picking up food during the Mobile Food Pantry.

More than 350 families received fresh produce, meat, and dry goods Thursday as part of the first mobile food pantry hosted by the UTHSC Office of Student Affairs and Community Engagement (SACE) in partnership with the UTHSC Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program and the Mid-South Food Bank.

“The collaboration of all teams involved was nothing short of amazing,” said Rhonda Ferguson-Wilkins, family advocate counselor for the Relative Caregiver Program. The Relative Caregiver Program supports children and teens who are being raised by relatives because their parents are unable to do so. Established in 2001, the program offers family services, such as case management, support groups, mentoring, referral services, and limited financial assistance. “With the stress and anxiety that so many heads of households are feeling during this COVID-19 pandemic, it sure feels good to know that for a few days, feeding their families will not be such a hardship. We met the immediate need of so many families on and off campus.”

Families in vehicles began lining up as early as 6:30 in the morning for the event which ran from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. The mobile food pantry was able to serve a total of 1,062 household members. More than 50 volunteers including students, faculty, and staff from the Colleges of Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Health Professions, Medicine, and Nursing, along with SACE, the Office of Academic, Faculty and Student Affairs, UTHSC Campus Police, the Relative Caregiver Program, and the Mid-South Food Bank assisted in the packaging and distribution of food.

Families from the Shelby Country Relative Caregiver program received fresh produce, meat, and dry goods during last week’s Mobile Food Pantry.

“Our goal was to serve 200 to 250 families, but we really didn’t know what to expect due to the economic conditions related to COVID-19 and increased hunger in our city,” said Charles Synder, PhD, MPH, EdM, director of SACE and the UTHSC Chief Student Affairs Officer. “We prepared for a far larger group to reduce the chance that we may have to send someone away without food. It was an honor to help play a role in reducing hunger in Memphis.”

SACE and the Relative Caregiver Program began planning for the event in early June. The event aligns with the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) which focuses on teaching student to recognize and address the social determinants of health affecting the communities in which they live.

“Food insecurity is a huge concern in Memphis, so this mobile pantry event was just one way that we hope to begin to alleviate hunger among our neighbors,” said Brandy Brown, PhD, assistant director of SACE.

SACE hopes to offer their next mobile pantry in August as part of the launch of the Campus Cupboard. The Campus Cupboard will serve as an agency of the Mid-South Food Bank and will provide nutritious food and food preparation education to the UTHSC community who may find it difficult to access balanced meals for themselves and their families. More information can be found on the Campus Cupboard website.

Lori Gonzalez, PhD, vice chancellor of Academic, Faculty and Student Affairs, prepares boxes with other volunteers for distribution at the Mobile Food Pantry.