A student-run food pantry will likely be constructed on campus this semester to combat food insecurity among students. The organization, named Feed Mercer, will be brought before Campus Life and the Student Government Association (SGA) for approval by founder Joseph Jackson III.
Food insecurity refers to circumstances where consistent access to adequate food or other essential resources is limited at certain times during the year.
Jackson hopes that the food pantry will be in a discreet but accessible location on campus where students in need can receive boxes of food, toiletries and other basic necessities that may not be otherwise available to them.
“The goal of it is to be able to serve the day-to-day emergency needs of students on campus,” Jackson said.
Rather than just throwing free food at everybody, he wants Feed Mercer to help “get people through rough periods where maybe their paycheck hasn’t come in.”
Jackson said he was motivated to organize this project after discovering that college students operate an opt-in, volunteer-run food pantry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
A history and psychology double major with a minor in economics, Jackson said he studied relief efforts and resonated with the project on both an academic and personal level.
“I had a couple of experiences where I didn’t necessarily have enough to eat, but I didn’t have the resources to combat that,” Jackson said.
Jackson said his father encouraged him to send out surveys to the Mercer community to gauge interest and need for such a project. He received some “very positive feedback,” which he said included anecdotes from students who had either been personally affected by food insecurity or knew other students who had.
The next step for Feed Mercer is meeting with Campus Life and the SGA to work out finer details.
He hopes the pantry will open in mid-March and provide services to students two days per week. Students who need to utilize these services will communicate with Feed Mercer volunteers ahead of time to discuss what items they need and when they can pick them up.
However, Jackson said he hopes the pantry can provide more than just food.
“A big part of the project for me has been not just food insecurity, but also period insecurity,” Jackson said, adding that he aims to be able to provide sanitary products for women.
Jackson said that most items will likely be purchased with grants from food retailers or donated by students, Resident Assistants, SGA, alumni or anyone else in the Mercer community who can support current students who may be unable to provide for themselves.
One of Jackson’s primary motivations in helping Mercer students who struggle with lack of access to these basic necessities is to perpetuate the university’s community engagement.
Mercer is a growing campus, and Jackson said he believes that providing students with the resources they need to take care of themselves will enable them to then give back to others in line with Mercer’s emphasis on service and outside leadership.
“Mercerians can’t serve the community outside if they are already struggling,” Jackson said. “My father always said that charity has to start at home.”
He said that the setup phase will be the most difficult part of organizing Feed Mercer. Volunteers are needed to work at the pantry distributing boxes and checking the dates on the donated food, and there is currently a need for several executive positions including a volunteer coordinator and a marketing coordinator.
Students who would like to volunteer with Feed Mercer can reach out at [email protected] with their availability and area of interest.
One of Jackson’s primary concerns is the longevity of this project and ensuring that this service will continue after he graduates.
“I want to provide the best service that we can to others,” he said.