UW-River Falls: Freddy’s Pantry opens in Rodli Hall to address student food insecurity

January 27, 2022 – With nearly one-third of university students nationally food insecure, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls recently opened Freddy’s Pantry in Rodli Hall to help provide grab-and-go foods for hungry students.

Freddy’s Pantry in 268 Rodli Hall opened January 10, according to Kathleen Hunzer, Chancellor’s Scholars, Honor Program and Falcon Scholars director.

“Any student can use it,” Hunzer said. “We are not asking any questions. Students will have to swipe their ID or type in their identification number just for usage statistics.”

The nearly 14-by-18 foot pantry will have insulated bags and currently has tables with breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack foods and personal hygiene items students may need, Hunzer said. It is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday. 

“Students can fill a bag and have food that they can eat on the way to class and other items that would work for when they are home,” Hunzer said. 

Freddy’s Pantry has a microwave so students can heat up a quick meal and eat it on their way to class. There is a refrigerator and freezer, allowing for fresh and frozen foods to be stocked and available.

Breakfast items available include cereal, dried fruit and hot cocoa. Lunch items are cans of tuna or chicken and ready-to-eat meals. Canned vegetables, rice mixes, soups, beef stew and macaroni and cheese are some of the dinner items available, Hunzer said. There are some gluten-free items available, too.

The River Falls Community Food Pantry donated the food to start up Freddy’s Pantry.

Financial donations sought

The pantry in Rodli Hall, named for the UWRF mascot Freddy Falcon, is the second one on campus. In spring 2021, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science dean’s office, along with the Student Advisory Committee, repurposed a bookcase on the first floor of the Agricultural Science building to start a Free Food Shelf which offers prepackaged, shelf-stable foods such as canned meats, cereals, oatmeal, pasta and soup. There are also some personal hygiene items available. Students restock the shelf on a weekly basis.

Financial donations are needed to finish the shelving in Freddy’s Pantry and to help provide needed items, including personal hygiene ones, Hunzer said. The UW-River Falls Foundation has set up a donation site to help support both pantries at https://www.uwrf.edu/give/Freddys-Pantry.cfm

“Any amount would be a help,” Hunzer said, noting financial donations are most needed right now for the pantries as they determine what items students need most.

Rodli Hall was a perfect location for Freddy’s Pantry because it has many student services in the building and is home to the Student Success Center, Ian Stroud, director of Student Success said.

“Accessibility and discretion are two significant location factors for food pantries,” he said. “The second location provides both of that, while we are a bit more visible than the first location, we are more accessible with being close to Cascade Avenue for off-campus students and on-campus students without a meal plan can access the pantry. Additionally, we are now able to provide more nutrition options and can focus on tracking usage to better tailor resources and services to our students’ needs.”

According to National College Health Assessment data compiled in 2021 by the UWRF Student Health and Counseling Office, 30% of students polled limited what they ate to save money and just over 41% of students said they could not afford to eat balanced meals. If extrapolated to overall campus enrollment, roughly 1,600 to 2,000 students face food insecurity.

In a July Inside Higher Education article, 38% of students reported regularly missing meals since the COVID-19 pandemic started. 

Addressing student success

Not only are students not being nourished properly to focus on school, but it’s affecting their ability to graduate. A total of 36% of students know someone who has dropped out due to food insecurity during the pandemic, according to Chegg research conducted in November 2020. 

UWRF is seeing an increase in students experiencing some level of food insecurity, Stroud said. About a third of those are students identifying as underrepresented minority populations.

“If we want to address student success holistically, we have to look at every aspect in the student experience,” Hunzer said. “Student success is not something that just happens in the classroom and is reflected in grades. Student success is about all aspects of their experience.”

Hunzer used the example of having fresh fruit and vegetables available for students. 

“Treating people experiencing daily living insecurities with dignity and respect is key to our work,” Hunzer said. “To support that mission, we want to have a wide variety of options for students, including fresh produce when possible. Just because someone needs assistance does not mean that they want macaroni and cheese or soup all the time, so having the refrigerator in Rodli will allow us to provide some fresh options like apples, yogurt, juice, bread, etc. It’s always great to take a bite of a crisp apple or use some fresh bread for a sandwich.” 

When students struggle to afford food, miss meals, or worry about their basic needs, it can negatively impact their success, persistence and ability to graduate, Hunzer said.

Students may feel more comfortable visiting food pantries on campus, even though the River Falls Community Food Pantry is open to them. They also may not have transportation to the community pantry, Hunzer said. 

Stroud encouraged students, faculty and staff to use both food pantries at any time.

“I often remind students to utilize the resources provided to them,” Stroud said. “This is a great resource for those carrying unnecessary stress or anxiety about where their next meal is going to come from. Our goal for this pantry is to be much more than providing a meal, and rather serve as a springboard for students to get other resources they need to be successful here at UWRF.”

Eventually Freddy’s Pantry plans to add a clothing closet with a rack of seasonal clothes, particularly winter wear.

Other ideas include getting cheese and meat ends donated from Falcon Foods and offering homemade ready-to-go meals, and possibly starting a campus garden to help grow food for the pantries. Chartwells has also provided some vouchers for cafeteria meals to help students.

Freddy’s Pantry will be run by Honors Program volunteers to stock shelves, market the pantry and write grants. It will provide leadership and volunteer opportunities for these students.

UWRF has an Emergency Grant/Loan Program that assists students with emergencies that can negatively affect success and progress toward a degree. The program can provide up to $500 to address unplanned expenses such as utilities, housing, rent, food, meals, medical and dental expenses, prescription eyeglasses, personal automobile expenses, gasoline, public transportation costs, childcare and travel due to immediate family illness or death.

For more information about the program, email [email protected] or call 715-425-3304.