Terrence Walker, University Counseling Services administrative assistant for MCV, meets with students to discuss issues affecting their student success. An often overlooked obstacle, food insecurity, is an issue many students face on a daily basis, and, before last year, VCU had no outlet in place for students with food insecurity to receive assistance.
After meeting with students about the problem of food insecurity, Walker decided to become proactive in ensuring food security here at VCU by assisting in the creation of Rampantry, a student-run organization which exists to ensure food security by providing the VCU community with healthy, culturally appropriate emergency food.
Originally opened in the Baptist Campus Ministry in January of 2014, the Pantry was recently relocated to the University Student Commons and serves anywhere between 30 to 100 students in a typical week, stocking their pantries with starch, proteins, produce and other emergency food.
According to Feeding America, an organization that studies food insecurity in America, one in six Americans are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Among that statistic are VCU students, who discussed this issue with Walker, leading him to create a survey for the student body regarding food security. The results of this survey showed an alarming need for food security among the student body, which led to the creation of the Rampantry. Over a year later, VCU’s Rampantry has had over 1,800 visits.
“The support for the organization has been amazing. We basically started a non-profit from the ground up, and it has flourished since it was created last year,” said Walker.
Rampantry partners with a variety of businesses and donors to ensure that their food supply is maintained. Local businesses such as Food Lion, which donates between 70 to 80 percent of the food for Rampantry, are the reason that the service is completely free of cost to students in need. While the Pantry is currently marketed to students, anyone with a VCU ID is able to receive food from the Pantry. Come in with a VCU ID, come out with five canned items and supplements such as bread, produce and spices, enough to supplement a week’s diet.
According to Holly Whitt, vice president of Rampantry, the Pantry is only an emergency measure for students who lack food security. The organization is looking to adopt ideas such as workshops, food stamps and a community garden to ensure food security for the VCU community.
“While students can always come to us if they don’t have the means to obtain food, we try to encourage students to be self-sustainable,” said Whitt. “We’re trying to help more with that by creating recipe books and finding the cheapest places around to buy food.”
Students can visit Rampantry once a week during their open hours on Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. The new location in the University Student Commons can be reached by the Floyd Ave entrance of the Commons, through the hallway adjacent to the Commons Theater.
“Its been a real eye-opener,” said Rampantry advisor Beth Ward. “Its incredible to see the support, and see the community be so willing to step up and help. We couldn’t do it without them.”
Community support for Rampantry by organizations such as Food Lion, Panera, Shalom Farms, VCU SGA, The Pace Center as well as community residents and students, has drastically increased in the past year, and according to Whitt, the organization has received nothing but praise.
“The Pantry has grown so much over the past year but the one thing that has remained the same is that there was never a stigma around the Pantry- VCU students embraced it from the beginning,” she said. “The support from the community is great and its been a really good opportunity to connect with the VCU and Richmond community.”
Rampantry is an entirely student run organization, which means they are always looking for students to contribute. For those looking to volunteer, the organization has a need for students not only working in the Pantry itself, but also completing essential functions of the organization such as running social media, putting on food drives and more.
“Students in the past have gotten really creative,” said Ward. “Once we had a group of students who used the Pantry food to create brown bag lunches for those in need and they went flying off of the shelves.”
Whether it be volunteering or using the Pantry, the Rampantry organization urges students to get involved. “Come to it and spread the word,” said Ward. “There are no strings attached and we’ll never turn away someone who wants any part of what we’re doing here.”