Knights Helping Knights Against Food Insecurity

By Rachel Williams

The year 2020 has been anything but predictable. We have all, to some degree, been swept up in a whirlwind of change and challenges including a global pandemic, learning to cope with a “new normal,” and a resurgence of social advocacy, political debate and disorientation. One thing remains constant: the issue of hunger and food insecurity. Given current circumstances food insecurity is increasingly exacerbated by difficulties that include finding employment, rising prices, inability to pay rent and general scarcity of resources. 

UCF is a campus that prides itself on inclusion and community, and the Knight’s Helping Knights Pantry (KHKP) is one of the many student support services that reinforces these tenants through providing students food, clothing and resources, and a safe space. Knight’s Pantry was founded in 2009 as a LEAD Scholars class project. From its humble beginnings operating out of a small closet in the Student Union, it has grown to inhabit its own suite in Ferrell Commons with a full employee staff, numerous volunteers, and professional, smooth-running pantry operations. Knight’s Pantry is truly an embodiment of teamwork and demonstrates how Knights banding together under a common cause can help support fellow Knights and make a lasting impact. 

Knights Pantry and Food Insecurity 

Knights Pantry volunteer preparing curbside food bags

One of the main missions at Knight’s Pantry is fighting food insecurity. For college students, insecurity may come at the cost of academic performance, and one of the tenets of Knight’s Pantry is to “ensure that UCF students would not have to choose between buying textbooks or buying groceries.”  Food insecurity is defined as limited or inconsistent access to food necessary to maintain a healthy life. It may be short or long-term and is influenced by a complex interplay of factors that include income, socioeconomic status, employment, disability, access to transportation, homelessness and living conditions. It has been consistently linked with higher rates of chronic diseases, increased illness and increased mortality. Hunger is often associated with food insecurity; however, it is a distinct term that describes the individual, physiological sensation of food scarcity, while food insecurity describes food scarcity through a social and economic lens.

Though food insecurity may result from poverty, individuals and households above the poverty line may also be affected. According to the USDA, approximately 13.7 million (10.5%) of U.S. households were food insecure at some point during 2019, with 35.2 million people living in food-insecure households. Given the current coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity may affect an estimated 54 million individuals in 2020. Recent studies have reported between 36-48% of four-year university students who experienced some form of food insecurity, with marginalized and housing-insecure populations being the most affected. Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity on college campuses is becoming an increasingly concerning issue.

Many individuals are discouraged from using the pantry due to stigmatizations such as being labeled as “needy” or “unfortunate.” What we—as fellow Knights and members of the Orlando community—must recognize and continue to acknowledge is that food insecurity is a condition, and not a characteristic. We must remind ourselves and our fellow students that food insecurity and economic instability can be unpredictable or uncontrollable situations that can happen to anyone at any time. The economic condition does not define the individual, and for those affected, it is important to remember that food insecurity should not be attributed to one’s personality or self-worth. 

Service and Learning through Volunteering

I have been a volunteer at Knight’s Pantry for around a year and have enjoyed every moment of it. This place has not only been one of my favorite volunteering experiences, but it is a place where all students—visitors, donors and volunteers alike—feel welcome, accepted and heard. 

Like most things during the coronavirus pandemic, pantry operations are not the same. But what does remain constant is the atmosphere of encouragement, acceptance and togetherness that comes from being a part of the pantry, whether through visiting or volunteering. At times like this, I know I can look forward to sharing a conversation with my fellow volunteers while stocking curbside pick-up bags or sharing a laugh over someone’s unintentionally messy handwriting when processing and dating cans. 

Assistant manager Nickalos Wise handing out curbside food bags

When I first joined Knight’s Pantry, I immediately felt welcome, and as I continue to volunteer, I feel increasingly proud to be a part of the KHKP family. Everyone is incredibly driven and willing to contribute their best to making sure the pantry is running smoothly, efficiently and effectively. Staff members and volunteers always go out of their way to help students, donors or fellow volunteers.

No matter what you’re going through, the collective effort of everyone on the pantry team provides a sense of solidarity and unity. Everyone’s actions and positive attitude essentially proclaim the unspoken statement that “you are not alone, and we are here to help.” It can be easy to take the little things for granted, and I am guilty of doing so. Growing up in a third-would country, my parents frequently experienced food insecurity. When they moved to the U.S., it was difficult for them to balance learning a new language and college with financial uncertainties and the unfamiliarity of moving to a completely different country. My mother told me she would buy a box of muffin mix for $0.99 and stretch it over the week. When I tell them about Knight’s Pantry, they tell me how much of a difference it would have made if they had such a support service thirty years ago.

Our consumer culture creates an environment where we often don’t think about how much is thrown away daily. Food waste in the U.S. is between 30-40% of the food supply. This is a surprising amount of food that could potentially have fed others in need. Reducing food waste starts at the individual level and can be as simple as checking the dates on common pantry goods, cleaning out food you may not want or intend to eat, and taking a trip over to the donation bin at KHKP! With social distancing and distanced learning at play, our interactions with friends and fellow Knights are limited and sometimes localized to social media. We oftentimes don’t see the “other side of the story” and may not realize that, for many students, the struggles faced by the current pandemic are compounded by uncertainty over where they will get their next meal or how they’ll be able to afford next month’s rent. Especially now, it is important to remember that hunger doesn’t discriminate. Knight’s Pantry was founded by students for students. The pantry is supported by both outside and student donations, and we’re counting on all our fellow Knights to help spread the word and raise awareness. It’s our job to make sure all Knights feel welcome and assured that there is a safe space for support and help if they need it.

How to Visit and Donate to Knight’s Pantry

For Knights looking to donate, donation bins may be found across campus and can be located via the UCF mobile app map. Bins are also located at the front of the pantry. Donations may include canned goods, packaged food, other nonperishable food items, school supplies, textbooks, appliances, personal care products, etc. Any UCF student who is enrolled in the current semester can visit Knight’s Pantry, which is located in Ferrell Commons, Room 7H-101, across from the All Knight Study 2.

Due to COVID-19 guidelines, pantry operations have switched to in-store appointments and curbside pick-up. Pantry appointments allow Knights to shop the pantry for all non-food items within a 15-minute window and can be made by calling the Pantry at 407-823-3663, or by scheduling an appointment via a link that can be found on the KHKP Facebook page or KHKP website at Curbside pick-up provides Knights with pantry to-go bags through a drive-up format and may be scheduled through the same process as scheduling a pantry appointment. If calling to schedule an appointment or pick-up time, please feel free to ask about any fresh produce, bakery items or new donations, as these are perishable, and we are more than happy to give them a new home!