Food insecurity is defined by the Department of Agriculture as a household's inability to provide enough food for each person to live an active, healthy lifestyle. Moreover, a 2017 study published in the Educational Researcher journal found that up to half of American college students might struggle with food insecurity.
Since its establishment in January 2020, the Cougar Cupboard, University of Houston’s on-campus food pantry, has been fighting food insecurity on the University of Houston (UH) campus by providing more than 5600 students with nutritious food completely free of charge. In partnership with the Houston Food Bank, the UH cupboard offers produce, canned goods, dried items, and frozen meats year-round. Up to thirty pounds of fresh and non-perishable foods is available to students each week.
Jessica Haney (’21), program manager of the UH Cougar Cupboard, oversees the day-to-day operations of the cupboard. Haney writes and responds to emails, manages inventory and deliveries and tracks data to better understand how to continue adding value to the students utilizing this resource.
When anonymously surveyed, students frequently attribute their use of the cupboard to financial challenges, stating, “I work part time, but I can’t cover all my expenses,” or “I can’t afford to eat more than one meal a day.” Additionally, the inability to access a grocery store or familial responsibilities may be the reason for their lack of access to healthy foods.
“The majority of our students are commuters,” says Haney. “Most people try to survive on a granola bar and a bag of pretzels for the day while they are on campus, but how does that impact their functioning in class? We can do so much better.”
The original Cougar Cupboard, which was located in the UH Student Recreation Center, relocated due to the facility renovation project. Currently, Cougar Cupboard provides their services through a weekly distribution at the UH Student Center, as they build out a new space to be located at University Lofts. Haney is optimistic that the updated location will provide more opportunities to serve students.
“The new location will be about three times the size of our previous space. I am really excited that we will have more freezer and refrigerated space in addition to our dry and canned goods,” says Haney. “The larger inventory will also allow us to provide more to those who may need it.”
Students interested in utilizing the cupboard can sign up on the Cougar Cupboard website or follow them on Instagram to learn more.
Written by: Jaelyn Lyles, Communications Manager, SHRL
Photos by: Anuraag Shah, Videographer & Photographer, SHRL
Headshot Courtesy: Jessica Haney, Program Manager, Cougar Cupboard