Engineering student groups’ mini pantry provides food and personal care items

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Engineering student group leaders Jeremiah Wimer, left, and Shirley Vega, right, led a project to establish a mini pantry at Bell Engineering Center 3008.

When is a peanut butter sandwich more than just a sandwich? When it’s the difference between spending all day in class hungry or having the energy and focus to take on longer, more advanced lectures and labs.

The hub for many engineering students at the U of A is the student lounge. This was especially true as students returned to campus after COVID-19 restrictions eased. It was at one of the shows, Bell Engineering 3008, that Jonesboro Senior Shirley Vega, Chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering Affinity Group, noticed that not all students had the same food resources. and meals.

“The college encouraged people to be in the student lounge to work and study together,” Vega said. “But not everyone has the opportunity to leave and go to lunch when they need to.”

Vega has found that food insecurity can be a major stressor for some students, in addition to the stress commonly felt during the semester.

“Food insecurity was greater than I expected. I knew there was a need, but I didn’t see it every day,” Vega said.

Vega reached out to IEEE Power Electronics Society President Jeremiah Wimer to collaborate on a solution. Wimer, an electrical engineering major from Fayetteville, described the challenges students face as they progress through their studies.

“When you become a junior or a senior, you find yourself faced with back-to-back lectures and labs that can last all day,” Wimer said. “You don’t want to be hungry all this time.”

With this in mind, Vega conceived the idea of ​​providing students with a source of food and other basic needs. She also wanted to make it accessible to everyone, regardless of classification or field of study.

pantry contents, including canned goods and packaged mealsWith help from the university’s Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry, Vega and Wimer put their plan into action. A shelf has been set up in the living room and stocked with non-perishables such as canned pasta and soup, ramen packs and of course peanut butter and jelly. The pantry also stores personal care items such as feminine hygiene items.

Making access to pantry items easy and discreet was important to Vega, and the student lounge was the perfect place. Vega, Wimer and others displayed posters, posted on social media and used word of mouth in the classroom to spread the word about the mini pantry. The response was immediate. Most food items stored in the mini pantry come from the university pantry and items are replenished every Friday. Donations were also made directly to the mini pantry.

Because food insecurity is a sensitive topic, a QR code is available for students to privately and discreetly request specific items from the university pantry. These items can be picked up from the Pantry or delivered to the Bell Engineering Center Mini-Pantry 3008 during scheduled restocks.

While Wimer identifies Vega as the driving force behind this project, Vega is quick to thank Wimer and the college pantry for their collaboration.

“It wasn’t a one-person project,” Vega said. “A lot of people are working to make sure it works as it should.”

As a senior rapidly approaching graduation, Vega hopes future students will follow through on this project and maintain the mini-pantry. As a non-traditional student returning to college after more than a decade, Vega is acutely aware of how stressful college can be, especially if there are challenges outside of school that can interfere with the studies.

“If we can eliminate a worry, we want to do it,” Vega said.

Peanut butter and jelly to the rescue.

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