Duke School of Nursing Stocks Food Pantry

New Student Meal Exchange supports students in need

The Student Meal Exchange cupboard in the Duke School of Nursing offers soups, mac and cheese cups, granola bars and other items for students who need a meal. Photo by April Dudash

When Duke School of Nursing Chief of Staff Ann Lore shops at BJ's Wholesale Club, she throws a box of to-go soup or noodle cups into her shopping cart.

The quick meals won't end up forgotten in her kitchen pantry. Rather, they'll be neatly stacked among other donations in the School of Nursing's Student Meal Exchange cupboard, waiting for hungry students to grab them in-between classes or during late-night study sessions.

The Student Meal Exchange began last summer after School of Nursing administrators started hearing stories of some students who were financially struggling. Students who attend classes full-time, such as those in the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, don't have the additional hours to work outside of school, said Michael Evans, director of marketing and communications for the School of Nursing. He said other students who are relying on financial aid or facing difficult family circumstances can receive assistance through the Exchange.

"Every so often, there's more month than money, or you're trapped studying and doing things at school and you don't have the money for the vending machine," said Lore, who donates regularly to the Student Meal Exchange. "What can you do? You need a meal; you don't need a candy bar."

In the first-floor student lounge, a storage closet has been transformed into a mini pantry. The simple, unassuming setup behind the door is filled with items such as oatmeal cups, granola bars and Barilla pasta meals that can be easily heated up in the microwave.  The School of Nursing buys food for the pantry at least once every two months and has named a team to organize donations from Duke faculty and staff.

"If there's a sale on grocery store soups and other non-perishable items, a case will arrive from students, staff, faculty or administration," said Christy Russell, special projects analyst for the executive vice dean in the School of Nursing. Russell serves as one of the Student Meal Exchange organizers. "If people have meetings and there are leftover potato chips, they'll put it in the closet."

The pantry organizers in Duke's School of Nursing have worked with student leadership during the fall and spring semesters to publicize the program and pinpoint needs within the student population. Duke isn't the only school in the area organizing such an effort to help its students - Durham Technical Community College started its popular food pantry in January 2013, and North Carolina Central University held a dedication for its new food pantry in March of this year.

"We know when they leave here, not only do they represent the school but they could very well be caring for any of us or our family members," said Kristy Chu, a School of Nursing administrative assistant and one of the pantry organizers, of the students using the Student Meal Exchange. "That one day that they had some food because they forgot it, they may have learned something very important. It's contributing to their education, and it's contributing to the health care of all the patients and families that they end up supporting."