A nondescript closet in the McFarland Building on campus serves as a lifeline for some Middle Tennessee State University students in need of sustenance.
In this undated photo, Becca Seul (left) stands in the Student Food Pantry that is housed in the McFarland Building at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo submitted)
That’s where Becca Seul of the University College Advising Center maintains the Student Food Pantry.
It was only a seed of an idea last fall, but it burst into full bloom in one week during the spring 2012 semester.
Seul is uniquely well-positioned for the task because she handles verifications of homeless students for the Office of Financial Aid. The majority of them are nontraditional students, living hand-to-mouth, and staying wherever they can. The number of homeless students at MTSU has risen 400 percent since March 2011.
“Once we verify them as homeless, they’re independent students,” Seul said. “They get the maximum amount of financial aid, so a lot of them will actually be able to move on campus.
Homeless students and students who have been in foster care are the primary reasons the pantry exists. Once foster children turn 18 and transition out of the system, they’re on their own. Unfortunately, too many foster parents terminate contact with the children when they come of age."
Seul said she has verified 67 homeless students and 74 foster-care students since last year.
Contacts with Greenhouse Ministries, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Youth Villages and the Murfreesboro Housing Authority make further assistance available if necessary.
With the Student Government Association as its pantry partner, the University College Advising Center will have all the help it needs to launch food drives and promote its existence. In fact, the James E. Walker Library is collecting food through Wednesday, Oct. 31, in a large box positioned in the first floor atrium.
Already, the pantry is stocked with some 600 pounds of nonperishable food items.
Seul said donors are encouraged to think in terms of what college students actually consume.
“We do have a lot of Ramen and a lot of ravioli,” she said. “The easy-open cans are better because they may or may not have a can opener.”
Canned fruits and vegetables, as well as boxed and bottled drinks, also make fine donations. However, anything requiring a stove for cooking is not necessarily the best donation, but it won’t be turned away either, she said.
“Any active currently enrolled student can come and access the food pantry,” Seul said. “They don’t have to be referred to us. They can just come over.”
The University College Advising Center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Around the holidays, the center will be open up to Thanksgiving. It will reopen the following Monday and remain open up to Christmas Eve.
If the Student Food Pantry is fortunate enough to receive more donations than the closet can handle, the SGA will stock some items in its offices in the new Student Union Building.
Seul said she realizes that some students will be too embarrassed to ask for help. That’s why outreach is part of the pantry’s mission.
“If a student is at that point where they’re actually going to come and say, ‘Hey, I need help,’ then that need has, typically, gotten pretty far,” she said.