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The Student Food Pantry is located on 19th Avenue and Emerald Street and is available for students Wednesdays and Thursdays starting at 4 p.m. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

Limited access to food is a widespread issue that affects numerous communities in the area, including students in Lane County. UO associate dean of students, Jimmy Howard, explained more about the importance of students’ secure access to food. 

“Food security is foundational to how people live and thrive. I think most people would probably be surprised at how many students have skipped a meal. Maybe they have access to food. But again, it may be very limited access,” Howard said. 

A food insecurity survey conducted by Food for Lane County in 2021 provides more insight into how many college students in the area struggle with food security, as 1,100 people out of 1,977 in the survey identified as students. 

According to the survey, food insecurity was higher among students; especially in students attending technical school (97%), followed by high school students (94%), college students (91%) and finally, graduate students (89%). 

Identity categories like race, class, gender, sexuality, disability and age can all influence the degree of one’s food security, according to the survey

The Food for Lane County report stated the percentage of food-insecure households in Lane County is higher for all minorities — especially for people who identify as Native Hawaiian and Asian.

Food insecurity at UO

Structural inequities like food insecurity are often especially present within higher education. Several programs at UO, such as the new Basic Needs Program, aim to destigmatize and provide more resources for students facing food insecurity. 

Howard explained more about the Basic Needs Program, launched in spring term of 2022. Located in 185 Oregon Hall in the Office of the Dean of Students, the program works to provide more support and advocacy for students’ essential needs. 

“​​Through the generous funding of our ASUO students, we've been able to, unlike many schools across the state, and even in the country, have financial resources to give to students who are struggling,” Howard said. “In many ways we serve as a new place to land for students. That didn't exist a few years ago.” 

Students — both with their families and as individuals —  can fill out an online Basic Needs Assistance form to get assistance from Basic Needs coordinators and get connected with UO and community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Coordinators help students apply to enroll in this program, which provides financial support to buy food.  

Many other campus food security programs, such as the Produce Drop, are run through the Sustainability center.  

“Addressing basic needs helps get someone to the place where they can handle the hectic life of college,” Ella Meloy, a senior majoring in political science and global studies, said. “If you are struggling to have a stable food access, stable nutrition, if you're not getting what your body needs, then you're not going to be able to do your schoolwork.” 

The Produce Drop, which will resume September 27th, occurs every Tuesday from 3 to 5 p.m. in the EMU amphitheater. It operates as a farmer’s market where students can select the produce they would like for free as long as they have their student ID. 

“The produce drop also has satellite boxes, [which] deliver produce to the Non-Traditional student union and the Black Cultural Center so the students there get direct access to produce,” Meloy said.

Another resource students can utilize is the Student Food Pantry at UO. Run by both the Basic Needs Program and the Student Sustainability Center, it has been serving students since its founding in 2011 and transitioned to a larger space on 17th street in 2020. Meloy was present during the shift and explained more regarding the positive effects of the location change. 

“The capacity for serving students increased. There are six refrigerators now in that space, and backroom storage for extra food to make sure that it's not running out. It was really helpful during COVID to have that extra space there so we could operate it and maintain social distancing and still have volunteers there working,” Meloy said. 

According to the UO Basic Needs Resource Guide, the pantry is open for students Wednesday and Thursday from 4–6 p.m. Howard said that the selection includes a mixture of perishable and nonperishable items, largely depending on what donations the pantry receives that week.

“We found that our students really have appreciated that as an opportunity, and that pantry doesn't just serve UO students. We don't turn away anyone in terms of being a UO student, we serve students from [all of] Lane County,” Howard said. 

Another resource students can use is Leftover Textover, which makes sure no food on campus goes to waste. Students who sign up receive a text whenever there is free food available on campus or leftover food from catering, according to Meloy.

Howard expressed how students have an opportunity to help destigmatize food insecurity on college campuses through volunteering with services like the UO Food Pantry. 

“It is so wonderful to see students helping students and breaking some stigmas around getting help and getting assistance. Because I think we've all been there at some point where we just needed a little bit of help,” Howard said. “And I think to have a peer that sounds like you, that understands the culture and gets you is better.”.” 

Helping the community

According to the City of Eugene, there are about 3,000 people experiencing houselessness in Eugene, and more than 2,000 without shelter every night. Eugene’s houseless crisis and lack of long-term resources for this community means these people are not getting their basic needs met, and are extremely vulnerable to food insecurity. 

The Burrito Brigade has been providing hot meals, specifically burritos, to those in need since 2014. The non-profit originated out of a house in the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene. Jennifer Denson, now the executive director of the organization, initially began her involvement with the group after spotting a Facebook post stating the brigade was short on volunteers that day, and brought her brother along to join. 

“I'm passionate about this work, because I feel like food is a human right,” Denson said. “And people should not be going hungry when there's 1000s of pounds, millions of pounds of food that are being thrown away a day.” 

Volunteers meet every Saturday and Sunday in the mornings to prep, cook and roll burritos to be distributed throughout Eugene. The burritos are made utilizing food from the Burrito Brigade’s public food pantry, called Waste to Taste, as it is all food that has been rescued from the landfill. Additionally, the program gathers food from local businesses, grocery stores and farms to provide ingredients for the burritos and for those in the community to take for free. 

“[In the] onset of the pandemic, we started a little free grocery store. So it's all imperfect foods, but it's a shopping experience for food boxes rather than pre packed food boxes,” Denson said. 

The Waste to Taste program offers appointment times between Monday and Friday each week for community members to stop by and fill up a food box for free. 

From the beginning, Burrito Brigade’s volunteers have occupied many kitchens serving the Eugene community. From a house in the Whiteaker area to the Lorax Manner of the Student’s Cooperative Association, the organization adapts to each workspace to consistently provide hot meals for those that are in need. Various groups within the Eugene community have shown up to support Burrito Brigade, as the group has occupied church kitchens and Food For Lane County has provided space for the group as well. The Burrito Brigade will soon be settling into their own location which is currently under renovation, with ample storage for the Waste to Taste pantry and their own kitchen. 

Long time volunteer Kathy Jordan joined the group in 2016, when the Burrito Brigade was utilizing the space at the Lorax co-op located on Alder Street near the UO campus. 

“We were lucky to turn out 30 or 40 Burritos in that little confined space with just a few of us. Now we do close to 300 on a Saturday and about that on Sunday too,” Jordan said. “So it's just been a continual growth. And the community has been really good about pitching in and supporting us.” 

While the Waste to Taste pantry is currently not vegan centered, the burritos the brigade distributes are vegan, in order to serve a larger group of people. 

“It [vegan burritos] accommodates many health restrictions. Somebody might be vegetarian; somebody might be lactose intolerant. And it just is really nutritious and we have less risk of dealing with meat and dairy with volunteers,” Denson said. 

A few weeks before school started, I headed to the Food for Lane County location to volunteer with the Burrito Brigade. I got busy washing leafy greens, a whole box of mushrooms and started chopping at one of the stainless steel tables in the kitchen. Everyone worked at their own pace dicing veggies, Tofurkey, and prepping warm tortillas. 

Jim, one of the volunteers, showed me how to roll a burrito –– and how to pack it with just the right amount of filling. As we rolled burritos and wrapped them in foil, one volunteer packed them away into insulated bags to be taken for distribution. 

As I departed, I grabbed two bags and took them to distribute to two of the Little Free Pantries on Broadway. Denson added that the burritos go quickly at both of those pantry locations, similar to many of the other pantries as they are located in high traffic areas to be more accessible. 

In July 2019, the Burrito Brigade expanded their reach further by launching the The Little Free Pantry project, which now has 50 pantries scattered throughout Springfield, Eugene and even Florence and Junction City. The Little Free Pantry motto is “Take what you need. Give what you can.” 

Reducing food insecurity in the Eugene area is a community effort, and student volunteers are crucial in making this change happen. The UO has plenty of volunteer opportunities that students can sign up for to support the community, including shifts at the Student Food Pantry and projects at the Student Sustainability Center. As the Burrito Brigade continues to supply accessible hot meals around Eugene, student volunteers are always appreciated, whether you’re rolling burritos on the weekends, organizing the Waste to Taste pantry, or stocking Little Free Pantries.

For more information regarding the basic needs services and volunteer opportunities the University of Oregon provides, go to their website. For more information, follow the Student Sustainability Center @uo_ssc and the Basic Needs program @uo_basicneeds on Instagram. For more information on the Burrito Brigade, follow them on Instagram @burritobrigade and check out their website. The Student Food Pantry is located off campus at 710 E 17th Ave. in Eugene. Students are advised to bring their student ID and a grocery bag. The pantry is looking for volunteers for fall term.

A&C Reporter

Celeste is a sophomore @ UO majoring in Humanities and minoring in Spanish and Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies. She loves fun eyeliner, Frank Ocean, and thrifting.