Carolina Cupboard: Addressing the Issue of Food Insecurity on UNC’s Campus
Carolina Cupboard is a student-run, on-campus food pantry at UNC that provides food at no cost to students who are facing food insecurity. Located in the basement of Avery Resident Hall, Carolina Cupboard is led by a talented executive team of six students.
This semester, the organization brought back its shift leaders for the first time since Covid, says Kayla Brown, a junior psychology major and neuroscience minor from Knightdale who is the vice president of Carolina Cupboard. The volunteer shift leaders help with daily operations, allowing patrons to schedule a shopping time and go into the space to make their selections. This means the pre-packaged bags used during Covid are a thing of the past, which is a safer method for those with food allergies, more discreet for anyone who needs to pick up an item like a feminine hygiene product, and preferred overall by everyone.
“They are able to shop at their own disposal and get what they need,” Kayla says. “Choice matters a lot, and I definitely understand that. That was one of the biggest decisions we made this semester. If I know I don’t like pickles, I don’t want to be given pickles and feel I should be grateful.”
Each month, PORCH collects food and cash donations from neighborhoods across Chapel Hill and Carrboro and delivers food to local pantries – including Carolina Cupboard – for distribution. In 2021, our Food for Pantries program provided more than 2,500 bags of food – with an estimated value of $50,000 – to 13 pantries.
“We’re so grateful for everything PORCH has done,” Kayla says.
Carolina Housing provides the space for Carolina Cupboard. It is estimated that over 22% of undergraduate and graduate students at UNC experience food insecurity. UNC staffers who make low wages can also utilize the services of Carolina Cupboard, which was founded in 2014 by Roderick Gladney and Jashawnna Gladney, a brother and sister who were concerned students when it came to the issue of hunger on campus.
“They wanted to create it because they understood that South Campus was a food desert,” says Kayla. “And even the North Campus – Franklin Street – it’s very expensive. A lot of people don’t understand their privilege when it comes to having food.”
Kayla says that Covid has exacerbated food insecurity on campus. Many students’ financial resources were affected, and university meal plans can be pricey. “There’s a percentage of students who haven’t eaten in a day. They are going to class. They are stressed,” says Kayla.
Carolina Cupboard takes confidentiality very seriously, knowing that patrons value discretion when it comes to their situation. But the executive team tries to spread the word about the organization itself – and its mission – as much as possible, through social media posts and media interviews.
“Carolina Cupboard is an option that people need to know about,” Kayla says.
To that end, Carolina Cupboard seeks to educate, empower, and engage the community on issues related to food insecurity. A lot of students reach out to the executive team, asking them to speak to particular classes on campus. The team is also connected to various pantries at universities across the state, including UNC-Charlotte, N.C. State, and N.C. Central. They compare notes regarding the work processes they have implemented and lean on each other as they work toward a common goal.
Kayla says new refrigerators will hopefully be installed at Carolina Cupboard soon, which means the executive team will soon be looking for donors to give perishable food items – frozen meals, fruits, vegetables, and more. They also could use kitchen utensils because many students don’t have can openers, Tupperware, a small pot, or a spoon with which to cook.
Kayla’s favorite part of her work is interacting with the patrons. “It’s very touching,” she says. “They say, ‘thank you so much.’ Seeing the impact in front of my face really warms my heart.”