The Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE) at East Carolina University oversees an on-campus food pantry called the Purple Pantry, and the CLCE created a mini food pantry located between Mendenhall and the Old Cafeteria Complex, free for any enrolled ECU student.
CLCE Assistant Director Lauren Howard said the Purple Pantry is a resource to provide food for students who struggle with food insecurities. The center won a grant from Carolina’s College Hunger Summit, which helped them purchase the mini pantry, established on Jan. 15.
“The process took a little bit just because of where we were and COVID(-19) and closing and all that stuff, but it is of course 24/7 access to ECU,” Howard said. “What we’ve also seen is a lot of community support, so a lot of staff, students will email me or the Purple Pantry email to ask ‘hey could I put, you know, ramen noodles, or something in there?’ We encourage that.”
Howard said the mini pantry extends the resources provided by the CLCE, so students who don’t want to access the Purple Pantry in the Main Campus Student Center (MCSC) can utilize the mini pantry whenever they need.
The mini pantry provides non-perishable and ready-to-eat foods for students, Howard said. The CLCE received the mini pantry from a mini library website, she said.
“We really turned, you know, the mini library into a mini pantry, so it falls in line with the mini libraries that you see (on-campus),” Howard said. “We’re glad to be in good partnership. Grab a book, grab something to eat and go on your merry way.”
Howard said there are plans in place to expand mini pantries, the next location to be the health science campus. She said three to four mini pantries will be around ECU’s main campus and the Health Sciences campus within the next couple of years.
The Purple Pantry in the CLCE is open Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. and the second Saturday of each month and information can be found on its Facebook page, Howard said. She said the CLCE and the Purple Pantry are here for students as they can come and take however much they want, whenever they want.
Sophomore biology major Jaelyn Woods is the student leadership assistant for the hunger initiatives program and the student contact for campus kitchens as well as the Purple Pantry.
She said the addition for the mini pantry was for convenience.
“The main reason for it being added is out of convenience. If a student student doesn't really have time to go visit the pantry, they can take a quick stop to the mini pantry, grab a couple of items and then hopefully when they get time, it’ll hold them over till they can go to the pantry,” Woods said.
Students who see and check out the mini pantry on-campus may help bring traction to the main Purple Pantry in the MCSC, Woods said. Marketing wasn’t the reason why it was created, though it is a benefit, she said.
Woods said the addition is an option for students who need help, don’t know how to get help, or are too afraid to ask, as the mini pantry is self-serving.
“Technically they (the items in the mini pantry) make a full meal, right, you have your fruit, you have your protein, you have your main dish, which could be like the ravioli or the ramen and you have your vegetable,” Woods said. “And then of course sometimes I put snacks in there.”
Woods said those interested in donations can visit the Purple Pantry’s social media accounts, such as @ecupantry on Instagram, or visit the CLCE suite in the MCSC. The Purple Pantry does not accept glass and expired items, she said.
Associate Director of the CLCE Tara Nicole Kermiet said the purpose of the Purple Pantry is for students to focus on being students, not their basic needs. She said the Purple Pantry is for students with food insecurities.
“If someone isn’t able to provide for themselves nutritional food options in a sustainable manor, or if they are choosing to pay for other things like bills or tuition or books or anything like that in the college setting, versus eating or food options, then they may be considered food insecure,” Kermiet said.
It’s a matter of being able to sustain access to nutritional foods, Kermiet said. The Purple Pantry relies on donations and volunteers, which the Purple Pantry has continued to be consistent with, she said.
The Purple Pantry has a partnership with the food bank and the soup kitchen that allows them access to food when needed, although Kermiet said the pantry rarely becomes empty.
“We have student organizations, we have community organizations, individuals that are consistently donating items to us so we're keeping that inventory well-stocked,” Kermiet said. “We also have an amazon wish list we’ve started.”
Kermiet said there is a special section for students who have special dietary needs and items in the Purple Pantry include canned goods, pasta, fruit, snacks, protein, beans, grains, drinks, toilet paper, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, deodorant and more, according to Kermiet. She said student volunteers are the face of the Purple Pantry.