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Ahead of Thanksgiving, North Carolina colleges raise awareness about on-campus food insecurity

Photo of a white grocery basket with oranges, lemons, green apples, tomatoes, peaches and potatoes. Beside it are canned drinks and a bag of rice.
North Carolina State University
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North Hall's Pack Essentials Hub, the new location of N.C. State's Feed the Pack Food Pantry.

As Thanksgiving approaches, colleges across the state are raising awareness about food insecurity.

In the Triangle, North Carolina State University and UNC-Chapel Hill are competing in their third annual pantry bowl.

Since Nov. 19, the two schools have been going head-to-head to raise money for their respective food pantries to help students in-need get food and supplies. The competition lasts through the annual Tar Heels versus Wolfpack football game on Saturday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the two universities have collectively raised more than $78,000 dollars.

Carlisle Watts, the president of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Cupboard, said a recent study found that 22% of students at UNC-Chapel Hill face some form of food insecurity.

“It’s a major problem on college campuses,” Watts said. “So, maybe you can get almost all of your items, but you can't get the last few things… We’re really focused on serving any level of food insecurity.”

The pantries provide students with food, toiletries — like shampoo and toothbrushes — and even laundry detergent. Previous pantry bowls have allowed the Carolina Cupboard to purchase industrial fridges and freezers, which expanded their offerings.

“Food is fuel,” Watts said. “So, we also look at getting nutritious food for students, not just ramen noodles. Yes, it is food, but also, we want to have fresh food and frozen food — foods that fulfill nutritional requirements for students.”

Community colleges are also spreading awareness about food insecurity. Durham Tech Community College, Alamance Community College and Piedmont Community College are participating in the fifth annual Collegiate Hunger Challenge.

The challenge includes 14 colleges total, including some four-year universities. In it, the schools compete against each other to collect food donations.

The top schools have a chance to win money from a $25,000 prize pool sponsored by Food Lion and the N.C. Campus Engagement network.

Jessica Zettlemoyer, Durham Tech’s student hunger ambassador, said the challenge sets the college up to help various campus members.

“There are so many students, faculty, and staff who count on the campus food pantry, even if it's just a snack or water,” Zettlemoyer said. “I saw the impact this had on campus last year, even though we sadly did not win. Durham Tech is a safe space where all people can grow and do great things.”

The challenge started in September and lasts until Dec. 22.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC’s 2024 Fletcher Fellow and covers higher education in partnership with Open Campus.
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