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UTPA celebrates Food Pantry dedication; doors open Sept. 8 to help hungry students
Posted: 08/29/2014
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A new door will open Sept. 8 to help students hungry and in need at The University of Texas-Pan American.

The Student Food Pantry, dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 28, will provide non-perishable food items once per week to currently enrolled students needing assistance. The pantry, which is located in Room 104 of the University Center, will be under the sponsorship of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, and under the direction of the Office of UTPA Dean of Students. It is the second student food pantry to be established in The University of Texas System, the first one at UT Dallas.

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Pictured at the Food Pantry ribbon cutting are left to right Fernanda Pena, SGA vice president; Dr. Mari Fuentes-Martin, associate vice president and dean of students; Jody Nelsen; UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen; Dr. Martha Cantu, vice president, Division for Student Affairs; Dr. Eugenia Curet, assistant dean of students for Student Support; and Alberto Adame, SGA president. The pantry will begin operating Sept. 8.
"This is a proud moment," said Dr. Mari Fuentes-Martin, UTPA dean of students, who welcomed the crowd to the dedication event and described the teamwork of administrators, staff, and students that helped bring the pantry to fruition. "We have developed an online registration system and already have students registering for the service."

Fuentes-Martin said food insecurity is a real problem within college campuses across the nation. At UTPA, it is estimated that one in six students may be food insecure, she said.

"By providing currently enrolled students with a convenient site to obtain food and apply for food assistance when needed, we aim to meet their nutritional needs and minimize adverse impacts on their academic progress and success," she said.

Dr. Martha Cantu, UTPA vice president for Student Affairs, recalled the growing numbers of students who came to her office asking for help who were struggling with paying their tuition and fees, buying books and not having enough money to buy food for themselves or their families.

"It's hard to concentrate in school when you're hungry and you don't know where your next meal is going to come from. We are thrilled that the University community has embraced this and that we will be able to help students with this very important need," Cantu said.

Recognized during the event were the pantry's first monetary donors - UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, who made the creation of a food pantry part of University's strategic plan,  and his wife Jody, who is president of the Food Bank-RGV and will serve on the Student Food Pantry Advisory Board.

"This (pantry) represents two of my greatest passions ... UTPA students and the food bank. Through the food pantry and its partnership with the food bank, we will be fighting hunger and feeding hope," Jody Nelsen said.

Sodexho, UTPA's food service company, was also thanked for its $5,000 donation that will support meal plan vouchers for selected students in need.

In its initial year, the UTPA Food Pantry is expected to serve an average of 100 students weekly and 1,600 unduplicated students throughout the year. It's day-to-day operation will receive assistance from students, many social work majors, who will help qualifying students to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that can provide longer-term assistance. They will also help arrange and conduct monthly food donation drives.

The pantry's hours of operation will be 4-6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and 3-5 p.m. on Friday. Online application forms can be found on the Student Food Pantry website at utpa.edu/foodpantry.

Choosing to pay college costs and other expenses over eating is news that Alberto Adame, current president of UTPA's Student Government Association, has heard frequently and said the pantry will fill a huge need on campus.

"This Food Pantry is going to go a long way toward supporting the University's and Student Affairs' mission of maximizing student success," he said. "This is an initiative that hopefully other universities in the UT System will start and it will spread to other universities in Texas and in the nation."

Enjoy ribbon cutting photos at this Facebook photo gallery. For more information, call (956) 665-FOOD (6336) or visit the Student Food Pantry website.