By Kimberly Phillips
All of UConn might have their eye on Paige Bueckers this season, but the campus community is in her heart, as she and partner Chegg Inc. announce their support for the Husky Harvest food pantry that has served hundreds of Storrs students and staff since opening this spring.
“One thing we’ve learned in the last six months is that food insecurity doesn’t have boundaries,” says Michael White, executive director of UConn Dining Services. “We have students who are in crisis and are here for the short term. We have families that need formula and diapers and are here for the long term. Any partnership is invaluable to us because we need resources.”
The assistance from Bueckers and Chegg, announced today during a press conference at the pantry in the Charter Oak Apartments Community Center, will allow Husky Harvest to supplement the items it already gets from Connecticut Foodshare, which has been providing food since its inception, White says.
In the last six months, Husky Harvest Storrs has added Midwest Food Bank New England in Manchester, Big Y in Tolland, and Price Chopper in Storrs as benefactors that with Connecticut Foodshare provide most of the food and toiletries on the shelves, in the freezers, and inside refrigerators at the pantry.
“Resources that come through the UConn Foundation’s Food Insecurity Fund or direct partnership for product are essential,” White says. “For Paige to step up and make this a priority is something I commend her for. She’s an incredibly busy student-athlete with a rigorous schedule. For her to pay attention to this issue and do so here at UConn is truly amazing.”
In February 2022, Bueckers became Chegg’s first student-athlete brand ambassador, working to bring awareness to the problem of food insecurity among college students after a Chegg.org report showed 32% of college students are reporting food insecurity since the pandemic.
At UConn, a 2019 survey determined 35% of the Storrs student body was going hungry just prior to the start of the pandemic, with the rate even higher at the branch campuses. That’s one reason UConn leaders sought to establish Husky Harvests at Avery Point, Hartford, Stamford, and Waterbury, along with
the one in Storrs.
“I am so proud that we are partners with the University and helped to get this pantry up and running,” says Connecticut Foodshare President and CEO Jason Jakubowski ’99 (CLAS), ’01 MPA. “Hunger on college campuses is an issue in Connecticut and throughout the country. I am very proud that my alma mater has made the commitment to address this issue.”
In December 2022, a pop-up food pantry at UConn’s Student Union provided $10,000 worth of food for more than 500 students thanks largely to a donation from the Undergraduate Student Government.
Chegg, in March 2022, gave out 6,000 meals with partner Goodr during a free pop-up pantry in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during the NCAA Final Four tournament.
“We are honored to partner with Paige to help reduce food insecurity for students. Caring for the needs of students – inside and outside the classroom – is at the core of Chegg’s mission. Through our research, advocacy, and funding of local organizations, we remain committed to combatting food insecurity among college students,” Chegg CEO and President Dan Rosensweig says. “We applaud Paige’s efforts to impact her campus community and raise awareness of the need among college students. We are proud to partner with her on this important issue and wholeheartedly embrace and support her efforts highlighting the work of the Husky Harvest.”
Filling the gaps while filling a need
White says the top items students are looking for at Husky Harvest Storrs include microwaveable macaroni and cheese or rice dishes, cereal, frozen entrees, beef stew, peanut butter, snack bars, yogurt, pasta, marinara sauce, bread and rolls, sports drinks, and cooking oils.
Recently though, he says suppliers were able to offer for free only things like COVID rapid tests, cocktail sauce, and hand sanitizer – a big difference between what’s available and what’s most needed. Also, what’s becoming a necessity is baby food and diapers, items that are rarely, if ever, found available for donation.
This means White and his staff, who he credits with doing much of the work to run the pantry, have sourced food like baked goods and produce from places like Big Y and Price Chopper. Other things that are challenging to find include toiletries like shampoo and household items like laundry detergent.
The Chegg donation will allow Husky Harvest Storrs to fill in the gaps, because what it’s doing is important. In March when the pantry opened after spring break, 195 households were served with 551 people in those homes. In April, 307 households and 340 people were helped. The pantry was open two days a week during these months.
The number dropped after the spring semester ended and its hours shifted to one day a week, with 60 households and 147 people served in May. Over the summer, June saw 40 households and 166 people helped and July had 34 households and 138 people served.
“When we first opened, we didn’t know if we’d need to be open in the summer, but we fed 138 people in July and that tells me we need to be,” White says. “We’ll continue to be open next summer with one day a week.”
But before then, in fall 2023 and spring 2024, Husky Harvest Storrs is open Mondays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Charter Oak Apartments Community Center, 916 Tower Court Road. Anyone in need and with a UConn ID can visit.
There also may be a pop-up pantry this academic year in the Student Union much like the one last December, White says, but the main point of distribution will be at Charter Oak in the space that once served as a convenience store.
And, for now, only monetary donations are being accepted for Husky Harvest Storrs. Taking food donations from community members isn’t possible, White says, because doing so requires items to be tracked for recalls and other inventory work to be done – work that Dining Services isn’t set up to do.
“There will be a point when we look to the community for additional support. Until we get there, we’re asking people to be patient and if they’re inclined to help to do so through the UConn Foundation,” White says.
Contributions to the UConn Storrs Campus Food Insecurity Fund at the UConn Foundation can be made online. Visit UConn’s Husky Harvest website for details on how to make site-specific donations to pantries at the regional campuses.