Students drop by the fresh food table of the Koala Pantry on Columbia College’s campus in South Carolina. (Photo: Courtesy of Columbia College)

ATLANTA – “On days that I was away from home from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., I didn’t worry about eating because of the Koala Pantry. When my family’s refrigerator broke for weeks I was able to eat well. Without this resource, I would not have been able to complete either semester.”

Food insecurity on college campuses is often a hidden problem because students do not want to admit they are in need…until colleges establish free or low-cost food ministries and discover how many students use them.

Columbia College in South Carolina was one of seven colleges that received Global Ministries’ grants last year to develop pantries or other means of supplying food and hygiene supplies for students. The colleges receiving grants, made possible by Human Relations Sunday offerings, were all United-Methodist related institutions with significant numbers of enrolled students of color with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

At Columbia College’s Koala Pantry, some students who frequented the pantry disclosed that they would not have been able to continue their college education without it. For students without reserve income for basic necessities, it is difficult to focus on being a full-time student while working to scrape together an income.

“The Koala Pantry has been one of my favorite services on campus,” noted another Columbia student. “I have used it many times, along with several of my teammates, when we needed to grab a quick snack between classes and practices. As a volunteer at the Koala Pantry this past spring semester (2023), I also witnessed how much good it does for many other students. I noticed that many rely on the pantry’s supply throughout the week.”

Essential partners provide support

While the grants were used to set up or refurbish existing pantries, these full-time ministries need full-time partners to keep supplies stocked and volunteers working. All of the grantees last year fostered additional resources to keep their pantries viable throughout the year.

At Greensboro College in the Western North Carolina Conference, Tyler Smith, a former student, current theological student and the Greensboro College Community Service coordinator, notes a number of ways they found to support their new Pride Pantry, one of three available on the campus.

Greensboro College works with its athletic teams and honors societies to host food drives to support the pantries. In addition, they partner with Spartan Open Pantry, hosted by College Place United Methodist Church in Greensboro, to give students access to a larger food pantry that provides hot meals throughout the week.

“We hope to shine a spotlight on food insecurity on college campuses and we also plan to offer educational opportunities for our staff to discover more about the issue and make a difference in students’ lives,” Smith noted in a video about the Pride Pantry.

Emory and Henry College in Virginia opened the Stinger’s Supply Shelf a couple years ago and its Bonner scholar program helps to coordinate the pantry operation. Appalachian Center for Civic Life helps to supply volunteers. The campus food vendor, Sodexo, maintains the food supply and churches and individuals donate hygiene supplies.

A student volunteer stocks the Stinger Supply Shelf with hygiene products at Emory and
Henry College in Virginia. (Photo: Courtesy of Emory and Henry)

Good grades accompany good health

In Waleska, Georgia, Reinhardt University upgraded its pantry to increase the hours of operation. Dr. Walter May, Reinhardt’s dean of students, notes their grant was used to expand access to the pantry with a card-access system; increase storage space; install air conditioning and acquire a base inventory of hygiene products, as well as food preparation and cookware items, such as bowls, plates and utensils.

“The research is clear that college students without reliable food access earn lower grades and suffer higher levels of stress,” says May. “The food pantry is one of many university strategies that supports our students and is an important part of the Student Health Center’s outlook on student life – caring for the whole person.”

Birmingham Southern College in Alabama used its grant to focus on the college’s “E-term” or January term, outside the regular 2-semester schedule of classes. Students themselves developed the idea for a free food market during the extra term that provides fresh produce, breads, meats and dairy. The market was free-of-charge to all students, and open 24/7. This resource was embraced and heavily utilized by the students; the shelves were nearly empty by each week’s restocking.

The new mobile market on the campus of Birmingham Southern College in Alabama.
(Photo: Courtesy of Birmingham Southern College)

Students attending colleges and universities from diverse economic backgrounds often experience financial independence for the first time and they must learn how to balance work and being a full-time student. Many college campuses are surprisingly far from affordable grocery stores, so students without cars find themselves living in a food desert, and if they miss a campus meal, they go without food until the next is served. Working in partnership with Global Ministries, churches, businesses and volunteer agencies, United Methodist-related institutions are responding to this particular form of food insecurity.

Christie R. House is a consultant writer and editor with Global Ministries and UMCOR.


Founding and nurturing new faith communities and supporting existing congregations that seek to increase membership and expand ministries into local communities have historic roots and contemporary implications for Global Ministries. Missionaries who train pastors to plant churches in new places; mission initiatives, which start new Methodist faith communities; scholarships that assist church leaders to earn the credentials and degrees they need for service and ministry; and networks that resource racial and ethnic faith communities across the United States are examples of Global Ministries’ commitment to evangelism and church revitalization.

Human Relations Day is an opportunity to stand with other United Methodist churchesto build the beloved community envisioned by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This denominationwide Special Sunday is designed to strengthen human relationships and community outreach. By participating in the Human Relations Day offering, United Methodists embrace the power of relationships, the strength of community and the good news that all of God’s children are of sacred value.

Gifts made on Human Relations Day, Jan. 14, 2024, support the Community Developers Program as well as community advocacy through the United Methodist Voluntary Services administered through Global Ministries.