Hidden away in room 359 of the University Center is a little-known savior for students in need.
Known as the Tiger Pantry, this service run by the Dean of Students Office provides free meals, toiletries, and other goods to any student who needs help. Students can pick up items such as soaps or tampons, quick meals like sandwiches or salads, and pantry goods like canned food and cereals.
The service has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought widespread economic instability. According to a study from the Congressional Research Service, unemployment was as high as 14.8 percent in April 2020, the highest observed since 1948. The high unemployment rates have left many students in and out of college without regular meals.
Even before the pandemic, the Tiger Pantry first stepped in as Clio’s Closet, changing its name in 2017 when it moved to the UC. The pantry encourages a shame-free environment, allowing students to grab what they need without having to ask.
But COVID-19 too has taken its toll on the pantry’s performance and procedures.
“We typically have a student organization for the Tiger Pantry, but since COVID-19, the organization kind of died down; it wasn’t very active,” said Tristan McKenzie, a doctoral student volunteering for the pantry with the Dean of Students office.
McKenzie added that their activity has dropped because they don’t have a new vista. A vista, she explained, is someone who oversees donations from the Midsouth Food Bank and food drives to fund and fill the pantry as well as social media outreach. Because of this, policies had to change when the university was still remote.
Instead of allowing students to choose as they please, the pantry switched over into grab bags for students. Registration had to be filled out for students grabbing these bags. McKenzie commented that the grab bags didn’t cover as much variety with the donations received while their wish list grew larger.
Since the campus has opened once again, the Tiger Pantry is resuming its regular service, allowing students to walk over to the pantry, albeit with social distancing policies in place.
“If someone comes in with their friends, and they all go over, we have the face masks, the hand sanitizer, and only one or two people can go in at a time,” said McKenzie. “And of course, we go in after them and disinfect.”
The Tiger Pantry currently accepts donations and has new hours posted on their website. They’re located on the third floor of the University Center, room 359. For any updates, they can be found on Twitter @uofmtigerpantry.