Feed the pack

Anna Gessner, a first year studying nutrition science, organizes a section of canned food at the Feed the Pack pantry in the Honors and Scholars Village Commons on Jan. 10, 2019. In the Commons, people are able to donate items such as canned foods, fruit cups, rice, and more.

As food insecurity continues to be a prevalent issue for college students, Feed the Pack works to ensure that members of NC State’s community do not go hungry.

Feed the Pack is a student-run food pantry available to students, staff and faculty that provides food items free of charge in order to combat food insecurity across campus. The pantry is set up like a grocery store, lined with shelves and refrigerators containing fresh produce, canned goods, pasta, pre-made meals and personal hygiene products, amongst other items.

Anna Gessner, a third-year studying nutrition and pantry manager for Feed the Pack, explained how the pantry system is set up to keep track of what is highest in demand while still maintaining the privacy of its users.

“All you have to do is swipe your campus ID,” Gessner said. “And we don't connect how much you take or what you take with your campus ID; we really just use it purely for diagnostic purposes of figuring out demographics of our patrons and for a very general aggregate data form. We take the email addresses, and we do use them ... to contact patrons to get them to complete an intake form asking them what they'd like to see in the pantry that isn't already there, asking them other types of questions so that we can just better understand the people that we're serving.”

Gessner echoed a 2017 survey conducted by Dr. Mary Haskett, psychology professor at NC State, which found that about 14% of NC State students experience food insecurity. Out of the 34,000 combined graduate and undergraduate population, that is around 5,000 students, about the size of the class of 2025. 

These numbers shot up during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a repeated survey taken in 2020 found 23% of students experienced food insecurity a month prior to their responses.

Since Feed the Pack first opened in 2012, over 300,000 pounds of food has been distributed, Gessner said. Furthermore, the success of the pantry has shot up in recent years due to the pandemic.

“We found in 2020 alone we distributed 116,000 pounds of food,” Gessner said. “So quite a lot by the end of 2020, over half of what we distributed from the time that we started to December of 2020 was just in that year alone.”

Cameron Morris, a third-year studying electrical engineering who serves as the public relations coordinator for the pantry, said Feed the Pack does more than providing necessities; it serves as a place of advocacy as well. 

“The mission statement of Feed the Pack is to serve our community with dignity and respect,” Morris said. “We try to be a food pantry, but also [are] talking about the stigma around food pantries and talking about food insecurity on campus.”

Morris encouraged the usage of the food pantry, emphasizing that any reason to visit is a valid reason.

“Everyone is welcome,” Morris said. “Food insecurity looks really, really different for everyone. So whether it's, ‘I have no idea where my next meal is coming from,’ as opposed to, ‘My meal plan isn’t enough to support me in the food that I need,’ or, ‘It's a really stressful time, and I don't have time to go to the grocery store;’ there’s a million and one different reasons you should use a food pantry. All you have to do is swipe your ID card, you take your food and you're on your way. And people are really, really nice, and it's just not really much of an ordeal. It's really simple. Really easy.”

Outreach coordinator Keya Pothireddy, a fourth-year studying economics, said that her favorite part of working for Feed the Pack is working with her fellow staff members.

“I think the team is my favorite part,” Pothireddy said. “There's five of us, and we're all super passionate about the cause. When you're working on a project as important and impactful as Feed the Pack, working with others that have the same passion and same drive makes a huge difference. So I get really excited to be able to come into the office every day, and know that I'm going to be working with people who care just as much, if not more, about this issue than I do.”

Gessner said she also likes the community aspect of Feed the Pack, especially when it comes to the Monday evening shifts she spends repackaging products.

“I love being able to hang out with the volunteers and getting to know different ones better,” Gessner said. “Each week, there's normally a new group of volunteers and I get to see what's going on in the pantry.”

Feed the Pack is not currently accepting new volunteers for the fall semester, but Pothireddy encourages students, staff and faculty to participate in some of the events coming up.

“I really like Feed the Pack percentage nights where we partner with different restaurants around Hillsborough Street and close to NC State,” Pothireddy said. “That’s a great way for you to get delicious food and support Feed the Pack at the same time. … We're also starting up pop-up food pantry events starting Sept. 29, so those will be monthly pop-up events. Our first one is in the Brickyard, and you can stop by, see what kind of food we carry, learn a bit about Feed the Pack.”

Feed the Pack’s Chipotle Night is Oct. 12 from 5-9 p.m. Students can go in and say they’d like to donate and some of the proceeds made that night will go towards helping the pantry purchase supplies.

Morris said another way to get involved is to participate in Pack the Shelves, which is a campus-wide food drive where NC State departments and organizations choose shelves to keep stocked and then collect a monthly donation for that shelf. 

“There’s just a lot of diversity of food in the food pantry because there's so many cool departments that get involved and really try hard to support us,” Morris said. “It's super fun.”

Pothireddy also highlighted the need for food and monetary donations, particularly in light of COVID-19.

“While demand has gone up for the food we have, the intake of donations hasn't been at the same pace,” Pothireddy said. “Right now we’re giving out more food than we’re getting in, and now we’re required to buy food to fill in that gap. So even if you don't have physical donations, monetary donations can help us buy the food that we need to fill this gap.”

Feed the Pack is located in the Quad Commons Building at 2221 Dunn Ave. As patrons, students can visit the pantry once a week on Tuesdays or Wednesdays from 12-6 p.m., or on Fridays from 12-4 p.m. 

Though volunteers are currently not needed, students can check back during winter break and during the spring semester for any openings. For more information on volunteering, donations and advocacy, visit Feed the Pack’s website or follow Feed the Pack’s social media accounts. You can also sign up for its newsletter for updates on events and volunteer opportunities.