Students at Georgia State seek assistance for a variety of reasons, such as financial and academic, but they may not be aware that there is a campus resource for a vital need: food. Panther’s Pantry, located on the Atlanta campus, distributes food to eligible students who are currently enrolled and present a valid Georgia State student identification card. Students may pick up food as well as personal hygiene items once per week. Not only is the food free, but it is also nutritious as the pantry stocks a wide variety of dry and canned goods, fresh fruit, vegetables and yogurt.
“There is no judgment, and the doors are open for those students who need it,” says Trang Pham, the pantry’s Manager who is a graduate student in the Master of Science in Health Sciences (Nutrition) – Coordinated Program (CP). The Coordinated Program prepares students to sit for the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist examination to become credentialed dietitian nutritionists.
Panther’s Pantry started as a cohort study, and then a business plan, by students in the Lewis College Department of Nutrition after a 2013 survey revealed that 68 percent of Georgia State students are food insecure at some point each semester. The pantry opened its doors in 2015 and is now staffed by nutrition students as well as student volunteers from other departments such as athletics, where student-athletes can earn credit for service hours. Nutrition students under the supervision of faculty advisors Jessica Todd and Molly Paulson, also use the pantry for clinical practice.
Pham stresses that the pantry is more than a place to pick up some much-needed food. It provides no-cook cooking demos for nutritious meals made from ingredients on the pantry shelves, as well as recipes that are created by CP students following health guidelines.
“Our Facebook page provides delicious recipes and updates, as well as the 10 hours per week when the pantry is open, as the hours vary by semester,” says Pham.
In addition to Facebook, students can visit www.nutrition.gsu.edu for more information. Panther’s Pantry is located inside “B” parking lot underneath the Urban Life building. A helpful video is also available on the website that shows a student walking to the Pantry and making a selection of food and hygiene items.
“We are here to help remove food insecurity so that everyone can focus on their studies, and we’re really proud to share ideas for simple food combinations that make a healthy meal,” said Pham.
Panther’s Pantry gives food to help bridge the gap, but its goals include interventions that build self-esteem and empower students. In addition to students being able to choose their food, which provides a sense of dignity and pride, the pantry hopes to integrate motivational interviewing in the future.
“This counseling technique would help clients to verbalize their problems, set goals, uncover barriers and express their emotions,” said Pham.
The pantry’s future ambitions include offering referrals for work-study programs and resources in the community to find jobs. Pham and her colleagues hope to engage in a capstone project that assesses how interventions that build self-confidence and self-efficacy reduce food pantry dependency.
“Food insecurity is a complex issue, and we are working towards a model that provides empowerment for students that will help break the dependency cycle,” said Pham.
The pantry is now under the umbrella of Georgia State’s Department of Civic Engagement, and the support provided from their activities in community outreach is enabling the pantry program to grow. Achievements include a recent partnership formed with the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Plans are now underway to replicate Panther’s Pantry at other Georgia State campuses.
“As an institution and a department, we want to assist and support students and eliminate food insecurity as a barrier to their success,” said Lovell Lemons, Director of Civic Engagement.
By Lynne Gayle
Pantry Manager Understands Food Insecurity
Personal experience fuels Trang Pham’s passion for the Panther’s Pantry. At a young age, she knew what it meant to be food insecure. She and her family left Vietnam in the 1970s as refugees during the war, and the ship in which they were traveling broke down. They survived for a week without food until a U.S. Naval vessel rescued and transported them to a refugee camp in Guam.
In 1975 Pham’s family was sponsored to immigrate to Texas. Her father found a minimum wage job and supported the family of six.
“We were resourceful,” says Pham. “My mother grew a garden to feed us, and she sold many of the herbs and vegetables at a local Vietnamese grocery.”
Pham’s background includes working in the food and restaurant industry, and that work combined with her personal experiences drew her to the Master of Science in Health Sciences (Nutrition) – Coordinated Program (CP) as well as the pantry at the Lewis College.
Jessica Todd, director of the CP program, needed a person who could work independently and put systems and organization in place at the pantry, and Pham was a perfect fit.
“I love the people we help,” said Pham. “Nutritious food and healthy eating should not be only for people who can afford it.”