When students left USF campuses for spring break this year, the vast majority did not return. Over the last six weeks, the university has joined schools across the nation and globe in transitioning to virtual schooling and remote services to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
However, for students who are sheltering in place on campus, and for those living nearby who have lost access to the university cafeteria and meal plans they rely on to stay nourished when classes are in session -- USF's food pantries in Tampa, St. Pete, and Sarasota are a lifeline to fend off hunger.
In the first month after the outbreak, the food pantry saw its highest rate of use since it was established through a partnership between Student Health Services and Feeding Tampa Bay in 2015, says Stacey Struhar, Registered Dietician and Interim Director for the Feed-A-Bull food pantry at USF Tampa.
"Each week we have increased usage, and over the past week we saw a total of 65 pantry visitors. USF students, both on and off campus, are able to come once a week to the pantry, so each week we see a combination of repeat and new visitors," Struhar wrote in an April 22 email to 83 Degrees
From March 24th to April 16th, Struhar notes, the Feed-A-Bull pantry saw a total of 143 students, totaling 235 visits, and provided over 2,800 pounds of food and personal hygiene items.
Donations from USF Dining (Aramark), the USF Bookstore (Follett), USF Student Government, USF Athletics, Bay Coffee and Tea Company, and a food drive facilitated by the USF administration supported the initial uptick in food pantry use. Most recently, Little Greek Fresh Grill on Fowler announced it will donate free hot meals to the pantry on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
"With concern for the well being of the students, we want to do what we can," says Nick Vojnovic, Little Greek Fresh Grill CEO and USF alumnus. "It is something that hopefully helps them ride out COVID-19."
Little Greek is also providing hot meals to the residents at Hillsborough Hope, a shelter for homeless people in the University area.
Struhar says that although the pantry requires additional workers due to increased use and changes made due to social distancing protocols, displaced student employees from departments across USF are filling those roles, eliminating the need for volunteers.
The greatest need at all three USF campuses is donations of non-perishable food items.
Struhar says, "at this time, the best way to help our pantry is through donations. If the community would like to donate goods, our greatest needs are canned fruits, soup, pasta sauce, pasta, and rice.”
"Despite closures across the campus and throughout the community, the pantry will remain open to help students in need. Many students are without work and do not qualify for food assistance, increasing their risk for food insecurity. On behalf of Feed-A-Bull, we are thankful for all the support and donations we’ve received, which have helped us continue to provide nutritious foods to students during this difficult time," she adds.
For more information and to donate food or money to any of the three USF campuses in Tampa, St. Pete, or Sarasota, follow this link to the USF food pantries