The door to better nutrition for Terps in need might just be attached to a commercial fridge in UMD’s new, larger Campus Pantry.

The pantry opens today in the lower level of the South Campus Dining Hall with more room to store and distribute free food and support the Terps who need it, including one much-needed feature: refrigeration and freezer space.

The cold storage will “open up a tremendous amount of opportunity for us,” said Allison Tjaden, assistant director of new initiatives in Dining Services. Fruits, vegetables, dairy products and eggs are among the nutrient-rich foods the pantry can now stock for the first time. 

The pantry launched in 2014 in a small concession stand in Cole Field House before moving to slightly larger digs in the University Health Center. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pantry operated out of a loading dock outside the dining hall, serving pre-packaged bags to clients.

Since 2014, on-campus surveys have found that up to 20% of University of Maryland students are food-insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to nutritious foods. The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated existing inequities; during the 2019-20 academic year, the pantry saw 8,463 visits—up from 2,422 the previous year, with most visits after the pandemic was declared and many workplaces shut down in March 2020

This summer, the pantry is open Mondays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first hour of the day is reserved for UMD faculty and staff.

In addition to cold storage, the 2,057-square-foot pantry’s new location in a former salad prep room has a private meeting room where staff can consult with pantry users who might need extra help learning to cook with severe dietary restrictions or budgeting amid financial constraints. A demo kitchen hosts cooking classes led by Dining Services and campus pantry staff. 

For student supervisor Izabelle Mendez ’15, ’20, M.S. ’22, the pantry’s mission is deeply personal—as an undergraduate, she experienced food insecurity and now feels motivated to help others in the same situation. Just knowing that a campus pantry exists, she said, is comforting to herself and other students.

“When I heard that there was (a campus pantry), it made me feel like people were listening and that they care about the experiences or barriers that students are facing,” she said.