New Service Addresses Student Food Insecurity

   Campus News | Posted on May 18, 2023

Amar Sudhaker began noticing food insecurity on the Andrews University campus in the spring of the 2021 academic school year. At the time, Amar was a sophomore majoring in public health. He started formulating ideas about how to deal with this problem and began to speak with students and faculty about his findings and encouraging them to join the effort. 

Prescott Khair, associate chaplain, began working with Amar and they created an instagram account, @aufoodplug. This account encouraged students who had large surpluses on their cafe accounts to buy food and donate it to @aufoodplug. After receiving donations, Amar would make a post letting students know when and where they could pick up the free food. 

Since April 2021, Amar and his team of faculty and students have been able to provide over 400 free meals to students in need. 

One anonymous student said: "Food Plug has been the only reason I've been able to eat these last couple of weeks. Before AU Food Plug started helping me out, I was only eating Pop-Tarts (it was the cheapest option) and drinking water. I don't have a car, so l can't go off campus to get groceries and ordering delivery is just too expensive. AU Food Plug was such a tremendous blessing to me, and I'm sure many others."

Gaining Support

As @aufoodplug gained notoriety, it began to attract sponsors, including Michael Nixon, vice president for University Culture & inclusion; Christina Hunter, director of graduate resident life; Padma Uppala, chair, School of Population Health, Nutrition & Wellness; Matias Soto, director, Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship; Taylor Bartram, assistant dean for student development; and Corey Johnson, assistant dean for residential community standards. Additionally, @aufoodplug started forming alliances with the School of Population Health, Nutrition & Wellness, Office of University Culture & Inclusion, Center for Faith Engagement, Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Meier Hall and University Towers.

Frances Faehner, vice president for Campus & Student Life, also became an advocate. In the spring of 2022, the provost distributed a survey to Andrews University students, asking for their feedback on food accessibility. The resulting data was reviewed by the provost, Counseling & Testing Center and School of Social Work.

Faehner says, “This confidential survey found that 20% of those that responded noted that they are struggling for their basic needs. And as Chaplain Prescott likes to say, ‘We want every student not only to feel they have a chair at the table, but they need a plate on the table.’ They need a plate with nourishment on the table.”

Mery Tynes, a senior religion major, also became aware of the food insecurity problem. As an Andrews University Student Association (AUSA) senator, Mery decided to take on the responsibility of finding solutions for food insecurity on campus as a project for her term as senator. 

Tynes shares, “I was first informed by Dean Christina Hunter of the need for a food pantry in University Towers. From there I helped to request funds with the AUSA Senate. Then I looked into research and documentation with the College & University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA) to see how we could establish a food pantry when it comes to food safety protocols, operations, creating a committee and getting volunteers.”

Grand Opening 

On April 17, 2023, the food pantry was opened. What began developing two years ago, with students and faculty advocating for solutions to food insecurity on campus, has now come to life. The grand opening took place in the lobby of University Towers in front of Room 312, where the new food pantry resides. It is a showcase of collaboration between students and faculty and an example of how things can get done with good leadership, hard work and God at the center of everything. 

The food pantry’s name was revealed by Christina Hunter, and students Mery Tynes, Amar Sudhaker, Brian Parker and Nehemiah Sitler, all of whom were instrumental in the creation of what they have named “Manna.” The food pantry will offer non-perishable food items, hygiene products and meals, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6–8 p.m. Meals will be provided by Andrews University Dining Service, operated by Bon Appétit Management Company.

Linda Brinegar, general manager of Bon Appétit, says, “I was thrilled when I got a phone call from my boss. They said that they were willing to donate up to $5,000 to make this program work well and safely.” Holding a green tupperware container with a prepackaged meal inside, Brinegar continued, “This is a safe container, leakproof, that is microwavable, with nothing bad in it that will leach into the food or anything like that. I have $5,000 worth of these in the basement right now. So on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, my team with the help of some wonderful volunteers, will package 50 of these. It took us 45 minutes and we'll get better as we go.”

How Does Manna Work?

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday during operating hours, Brian Parker, a social work intern, will welcome students and ask them to fill out a one-time intake form. After that, students will complete a brief sign-in sheet. All students will be allowed to take up to five items and a meal when the paperwork has been completed. Students may receive a maximum of one meal per day and five non-perishable items per week.

Donations of non-perishable food and hygiene items can be dropped off at the University Towers' front desk or visit Give Online and select “Student Life Emergency Fund” from the dropdown menu to make a monetary donation.

   Jeff Boyd