When Dr. Jessica Averitt Taylor opened FUEL NKU, a food pantry on the campus of Northern Kentucky University, she knew she would eventually need more space. In the fall of 2018 she met with a team of experts from Kroger. It was a routine meeting aimed at building a partnership with a local company. Just like any other pubic university, NKU was interested in partnering with local organizations to help the student community. It became clear very quickly that the University’s mission to reduce hunger on campus was perfectly aligned with Kroger’s vision of Zero Hunger Zero Waste. After the initial meeting, Kroger asked NKU to come up with a plan of what they would need. If the sky’s the limit, what would they ask for? Dr. Taylor went to her Board and with their help she came up with a formal request to Kroger. “We were asking for all the things for which we’d always wished,” she recalls. “There was no promise of any financial help. However we were determined to at least make an attempt.” To the delight of the FUEL NKU team, Kroger expressed an interest in engaging with them. “Kroger was interested in making a big impact on the community through their Zero Hunger Zero Waste program and fortunately, our desire to help feed students who face food insecurity was a great way to do this,” Taylor says.
Work began on Phase 1 of the plan, which was to expand the pantry. Just as in any university, space on campus is at a premium. Fortunately almost all of the faculty and staff at NKU realized the criticality of this project and threw their support behind it. They picked space in the Albright Health Center because it was close to the bus stop, opposite the student parking garage and had a loading dock.
The next phase of the project will include a community center, a full-time program coordinator and case management. The University is hopeful that they will continue to have the support of their partners and the faculty as they work to make the food pantry a place that provides support and a sense of community to students. “It is wonderful to see students wander in with their friends, grab a cup of coffee, sit down and chat in the pantry,” adds Dr. Taylor. “Hunger can often lead to isolation and our hope is that we are able to reduce that feeling of isolation among our students.”
The demand for food has increased three-fold since the day the expanded pantry opened its doors. In the month of February alone the pantry had 484 visits and gave out 543.5 bags of food and 142 bags of toiletries. With the increase in demand the Freestore Foodbank has had to increase the delivery of fresh produce to the pantry. “The Freestore Foodbank has started delivering fresh produce to us three times a week and for that we are very thankful,” says Jessica Tayor. “We appreciate the partnership with the Freestore Foodbank and Kroger. They have both been critical in helping us fight campus hunger.” To learn more about FUEL NKU go to their website: https://inside.nku.edu/fuelnku.html