By Michael Newsom
OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi's food pantry is now known as Grove Grocery, and though the name is different, its student-led fight against hunger and the stigma around food insecurity continues.
Grove Grocery provides meals and some hygiene items to students and employees from its location in Kinard Hall, Room 213. Workers wear masks and follow all campus protocols while they serve students. It's open 3 to 8 pm Mondays and Tuesdays, and noon to 5 pm Wednesdays through Sundays.
"It's exciting to see the organization grow to be able to help more students, and also help them in new ways", said Chloe Grant, Grove Grocery director and a senior biology major from St. Louis.
"One of my main goals as the food pantry's director is to help de-stigmatize food insecurity and to help people feel more comfortable with getting the resources they deserve," Grant said. "I think many students, faculty and staff don't use the food pantry because they're embarrassed or because they feel like they aren't needy enough.
"However, we want everyone to know that we're here to help them – without judgement – so that they can focus on what really matters in life."'
Grove Grocery has received a $10,000 donation from Kroger, which is part of a new and continuing partnership. Company representatives visited Grove Grocery recently and recorded video interviews with Ole Miss students to share with Kroger employees across the Delta region.
There's also an Ignite campaign to benefit the pantry and help it to serve as many students and others as possible.
"Many people find themselves struggling financially during the ongoing pandemic," said Kate Forster, staff adviser for Grove Grocery. "Usage has gone up, including an increased need for hygiene products and other personal items."
"Our utilization has gone up," Forster said. "It has brought a spotlight to the work of Grove Grocery, and the needs on campus. We would think that on a campus like this and in a place so rich with resources, students would never go hungry. Still, many students are facing very difficult monthly decisions.
"We always want to raise awareness about our services in a de-stigmatizing way. We really try to remove as many barriers as possible to students and employees finding what they need."
Here's a full list of Grove Grocery's services.
While usage has gone up, donations have increased, as well. Forster believes many people find themselves wanting to help others during COVID. She said its rewarding to see the work at Grove Grocery is both student-led and heavily supported by students.
"One in three college students during their undergraduate years will experience food insecurity," Forster said. "This semester, we've given out over 1,800 meals and more than 700 meal swipes.
"We are in a good place to support the community's needs, and we want to raise awareness. There is a lot of good happening here."
The pantry takes feedback from clients about their needs, and collects those items. They've also partnered to provide "meal swipes" on student and employee ID cards. Those who need swipes can apply here.
"Grove Grocery is a good way to help those in need, especially now," said Kieran Murphy, assistant director and a junior management major from Ocean Springs.
"We have so many important goals and ideas we try to implement so that we can ensure the most people get the help they need," Murphy said. "I am very humbled and honored to serve in a role that allows me to feel that I'm making a difference in people's lives, and it will always be an experience I will remember and cherish."
Mary Beth Gillespie, another Grove Grocery assistant director and a senior biology major from Brandon, said she first heard of the pantry as a sophomore. It's become a "passion project" for her because it helps so many, she said.
"Working with the food pantry has not only impacted my time at Ole Miss, but it has also shaped my outlook on my future and how I would like to continue to combat food insecurity as someone pursuing a career in dentistry," Gillespie said. "The food pantry is continuing to grow and expand, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store."