UCA’s Bear Essential Food Pantry collected 1,384 lb. of food during their homecoming week food drive.

This is the first year the food pantry drive has been a part of homecoming week. The UCA Homecoming Committee partnered with the Resource Management Service Learning Group to organize the event. RSOs, Greek life and departments all competed to see which group could donate the most food.

Bear Essentials Food Pantry was started in 2014 because of Ryan James, the former headmaster of Edge Residential College and Hughes College, and Marvin Williams, a student success coordinator. Originally, it was used by the residential colleges.

“In the last two years, it’s really taken off. We got the space down in Old Main, so we can hold a lot more product and is more accessible to students,” said Chris Craun, the food pantry coordinator. “We started working directly with the food bank in Little Rock and have started putting our name out more, and we’ve seen a rise in donations and in use. I don’t think the rise in use is because things are necessarily worse, but because people are more aware that we’re here now.”

In October, the pantry had 3,482.26 lb. of food donated. Over 300 students utilized the pantry, and 54 new donors participated.

“Several groups donated food the week before the food drive that didn’t get counted,” said Craun.

The pantry does not have scheduled drives other than Homecoming Bear Essentials Pantry Food Drive, which was started this year. However, groups often come to the pantry to organize drives, and usually several are held each year.

Space is limited and thanks to October donations, the pantry is at capacity. Usually, when things get low, those in charge of the pantry will ask for things like peanut butter, jelly, canned vegetables and pastas.

“We go off of need, and we’ll let the faculty and students know. We always get overwhelming support, whether it be food or cash donations,” said Craun.

The holiday season is always busy for the pantry — things usually get tight and sometimes the cafeteria is closed, but not all students can go home. Bear Essentials Food Pantry plans to host a Thanksgiving food drive to give students a real Thanksgiving meal. In the past, local businesses and churches have donated frozen turkeys. 

The pantry organizers are also partnering with the student success offices this Christmas to sponsor Angel Bear Food Boxes to give to students who need them.

“We’re extremely thankful for the support from students, faculty, and staff. We couldn’t do it without our volunteers, and it says a lot about our student body that there are so many students willing to give their time to help others. We can’t say thank you enough,” said Craun. “It’s really the people who are willing to donate their time that make this possible. Jacob Christie is the student volunteer coordinator and is always up at the pantry work. He’s a student, just doing this, and he really embodies a passion for others that I’m really impressed by in our students.”

To find out more about how to volunteer or where to donate, go to uca.edu/foodpantry.

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