U of M grad student develops nutritious food pantry just for students

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Photo Courtesy: Rebecca Leighton

A University of Minnesota graduate student is launching a university food pantry in an effort to keep healthy food options within reach for students.

One out of every 10 students at the U of M has reported having food insecurity - a major issue in higher education.

“Food insecurity is not that your stomach is growling all the time, it’s a lack of reliable access to affordable nutritious food,” said Rebecca Leighton, a graduate student at the School of Public Health and aspiring dietician.

Leighton developed the Nutritious U Food Pantry to bridge the health gap for students.

Last month at Appleby Hall, she hosted her first pop-up pantry, stocked with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins, like tuna and beans.

She quickly learned students have a desire for real, wholesome food.

“When we distributed 3,000 pounds in one day to almost 500 students, we wanted to double our reach because clearly there was a need,” said Leighton.

After receiving a $2,500 grant from the Minnesota Student Association and fundraising $1,700, Leighton will launch her second pop-up pantry this week.

She plans to provide 5,000 pounds of grub at the University YMCA on University Ave.

“We want to hit it strong,” said Leighton. “We want the fresh produce, we want it to be sustainable, we want to be providing students with fresh food.”

According to a 2015 Boynton health survey, nearly 18 percent of U of M students report they worry about whether their food will run out before they have money to buy more.

“If you don’t have a car and you’re a college student and there’s no grocery store on campus with affordable food, that’s food insecurity,” she said.

Students also report they eat less than the recommended daily amount of fruits and veggies.

“We’re just trying to break down those barriers,” said Leighton.

It’s those barriers, she says, that could prevent undergraduate and graduate students from establishing long-term healthy habits.

“The habits that you form now will affect your health outcomes in the future, so we need to instill that now,” said Leighton.

The Nutritious U Food Pantry will be available to University of Minnesota students at the University YMCA from noon to 8 p.m. this Wednesday through Friday. They just need to bring their student ID.

Leighton’s ultimate goal is to make the Nutritious U Food Pantry a permanent option for students, starting this fall.

For more information about Nutritious U Food Pantry, click here.