FAYETTEVILLE -- Though Thanksgiving is traditionally a celebration of abundance, many Arkansans also struggle with food insecurity.
A recent donation to the food pantry at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville will feed food-insecure members of the community for at least the next year.
Hellmann's and iHeartMedia came together to make a $50,000 donation to the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Campus Food Pantry, a full year's budget for the pantry that "will allow us to keep serving [clients] for years to come," Lauren Zoghlin, Full Circle Pantry special projects coordinator, said in a news release from the university. "It may also allow us to increase our serving capacity and better serve our clients," as this is the largest single donation in the food pantry's history.
This donation, announced in conjunction with the Arkansas Razorbacks homecoming football game last month, will allow pantry staff to increase accessibility to fresh produce, foods reflective of their cultures, and more variegated products, according to the university.
The food pantry is accessible to anyone with a university or University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences ID -- students, staff and faculty -- and their households, who can receive a three-day supply of groceries and personal care items up to twice per week.
"We're inspired by the commitment that the University of Arkansas and Hellmann's have to addressing food insecurity and hunger within the U of A community," Taylor Tomczyszyn, director of iHeartIMPACT, said in the university's news release. "We are proud to stand alongside Hellmann's to contribute funding and resources to help continue this critical work, and hope this partnership helps to reach as many people as possible in need of support."
During the 2022-2023 school year, the pantry served more than 10,623 individuals and had 129 volunteers, according to the university. More than 1,800 individuals were served through August and September of this academic year.
"This incredible donation is a meaningful investment in the work that student leaders have poured into Full Circle over the past 12 years and will help to ensure that Full Circle can continue to grow and provide services to our campus community," Claire Allison, director of the university's Center for Community Engagement, said in the news release. "We are so grateful to Hellmann's and IHeartIMPACT for this funding and recognition of Full Circle's mission."
Arkansas has the highest level of food insecurity in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The latest report shows that 16.6% of Arkansas households were food insecure between 2020 and 2023, about four percentage points higher than the national average.
"When we talk about student success and well-being, it's important students have access to food," Jeremy Battjes, vice chancellor for student affairs, said in the news release. "The food pantry provides a solution for students who may be facing food insecurity challenges."
In a survey across eight Arkansas institutions of higher learning in the fall of 2021, 40% of the 3,973 respondents said they either sometimes or often could not eat balanced meals, according to the Hunger Relief Alliance. In addition, 33% of respondents said they skipped meals or reduced meal sizes due to a lack of money, and 20.9% said they regularly didn't have enough money to spend on daily staples like food.
Named for the wife of former chancellor David Gearhart, the food pantry was established during her husband's tenure as chancellor.
Jane Brockmann Gearhart learned in 2011 that some students wanted to start a food pantry on campus, her husband recalled in his recent memoir, "Confessions of a Chancellor: The Politics of Higher Education." She learned that numerous students and staff -- a later survey revealed that nearly 40% of the university's students experienced food insecurity at some point during their time on campus -- "have very serious food insecurity issues and believed a food pantry would alleviate some of the acute need."
"Food insecurity became one of her many special causes where she gave time and resources," her husband wrote. "She was well schooled in the international issue of food insecurity [and] she kept up to date on the latest trends and issues."
The UA-Fayetteville food pantry was one of the first 20 college food pantries in the country, according to David Gearhart. It was also the first in the state and among SEC schools.
He also quotes his wife in the book, on the need for the food pantry, with her saying, "One of the most compelling stories I heard was that faculty and staff all over campus were installing microwaves and then buying macaroni and ramen noodles, and other foods, with their own money, to discreetly feed students who did not have money for something to eat."