Nourishing Minds, Fostering Success: University of Houston's Cougar Cupboard - University of Houston
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DSA News
October 12, 2023

By Germaine Washington with contributions from Jessica T. Haney — 713-743-1901

Photo of new WGRC

Photo Courtesy: Cougar Cupboard

In January 2020, a powerful initiative took root at the University of Houston (UH) managed by the Division of Student Affairs (DSA) that helped to redefine the meaning of student support. This innovative project, officially recognized as a Food for Change market, aimed to address the pressing issue of food insecurity on campus. The Cougar Cupboard, a collaborative venture between the university and the Houston Food Bank, emerged as a viable option for students facing food insecurity. Over the past three years, it has not only grown but thrived, becoming a vital resource for UH students in need.

A Partnership That Makes a Difference

This collaborative effort provided a lifeline for students facing financial challenges, ensuring they have access to a consistent source of nourishment. The Cougar Cupboard goes beyond offering just non-perishables; it offers a diverse range of items, including fresh produce, dairy, bread, frozen goods, and more. Each week, students can receive up to 30 pounds of food, making a substantial difference in their lives.  

Access for All UH Students

The beauty of the Cougar Cupboard is that it is open to all current University of Houston students who may be struggling with food insecurity. The only requirement is to be a UH student, and the program assists students in signing up with the Houston Food Bank.

Since its inception in January 2020, the Cougar Cupboard has achieved remarkable milestones:

  • Over 6,500 students have enrolled in the program.
  • There have been more than 38,000 visits.
  • A staggering 500,000+ pounds of food have been distributed.

Recognizing Excellence

The Cougar Cupboard's success would not be possible without the dedicated staff of the DSA who work tirelessly to support students. This commitment has not gone unnoticed, with accolades pouring in from both students and official university awards.

Lordina Yeboah, a student staff member, earned the prestigious Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year award. Jessica Haney, the program manager, received the division's Outstanding New Professional Award. Roman Hernandez and Genevieve Ryan were also recognized for their outstanding contributions. These awards are a testament to the dedication of the Cougar Cupboard team.

Voices of Appreciation

The Cougar Cupboard's impact is most powerfully captured in the words of the students it serves. Anonymous surveys have yielded heartwarming feedback:
  • "The cupboard really helped me, and the people working there are truly selfless individuals."
  • "I was a starving man before I discovered the cupboard... I am a better man, student, and father because of the cupboard."
  • "The Cougar Cupboard provides a safety net for me. I do not have to worry anymore about running out of food."
  • "The cupboard becomes like a safe zone for us when we need extra food at the end of the month."
These testimonials underscore the crucial role the Cougar Cupboard plays in supporting students on their academic journey.

Facing Financial Realities

The Cougar Cupboard also sheds light on the financial stressors many students encounter. Surveys reveal that 38% of its users have contemplated leaving the university due to these stressors, while a staggering 58% struggle to meet their basic needs. The program recognizes the importance of its ongoing expansion to meet this growing demand.

Support from TDECU and Beyond

The Cougar Cupboard's work is made possible through support from sponsors like TDECU, whose unwavering commitment to the program has been instrumental in its success. This support ensures that the Cougar Cupboard can continue to provide for students in need.

A Bright Future with the Center for Student Advocacy and Community

This semester, the Cougar Cupboard has found a new home under the newly formed Center for Student Advocacy and Community. This repositioning aligns the program with a broader mission to advocate for and support UH students, emphasizing the importance of holistic student well-being.

A Home on the Horizon

Currently in transition due to construction projects at its primary locations, the Cougar Cupboard has continued its mission by hosting weekly food distributions in front of Student Center South, in collaboration with the Houston Food Bank. Plans are underway to move into a new location at the University Lofts next spring.

In just three years, the University of Houston's Cougar Cupboard has proven to be more than just a food pantry; it is a symbol of compassion, resilience, and unwavering support for students facing adversity. As it continues to grow and evolve, one thing remains constant: the Cougar Cupboard is nourishing not only bodies but also minds, fostering the success of the next generation of leaders at UH.