Campus pantry fights student food insecurity


The Big Blue Pantry in Whitehall Classroom Building on January 27, 2020. Photo by Pete Comparoni | UK Photo

Kendall Staton

Research conducted by university faculty in fall 2017 showed that 43% of UK students who were surveyed had experienced some degree of food insecurity in the past year. Big Blue Pantry is working to change that. 

Big Blue Pantry (BBP), not to be confused with Wildcat Pantry, is a free on-campus food pantry open to all enrolled UK students. The pantry is located in the basement of White Hall Classroom Building in Room 025. 

Stocked with food, personal care products, menstruation products and more, Big Blue Pantry was established as a student initiative in 2014. After a student hunger strike, BBP became university supported through the development of a staff position in 2020. Current BBP manager Andrew Perkins is only the second person to hold this position. 

BBP receives most of its stock through donations but is also allotted a yearly budget from the university. Perkins uses this money and other monetary donations to buy food from Kroger that cannot be easily donated. 

“My primary focus for Kroger are things that generally don’t get donated, and that is mostly things that have to be refrigerated,” Perkins said. “Since those items go the fastest, we just have to keep them in stock.” 

Those looking to donate can give food, money or make a purchase for the pantry from its Amazon wishlist. All types of donations are encouraged, but Perkins wanted those donating to be mindful of what is in high demand for BBP shoppers. 

Perkins said ease of use is a large factor in what comes off BBP shelves. Microwavable meals and other ready-to-eat foods are often quick to be grabbed, but canned vegetables could remain on pantry shelves for weeks at a time.  

Perkins said that while the pantry does not need green beans, corn, carrots, peas or things being thrown out because someone didn’t want it, he will accept any and all donations.

“At one point we had over 1,000 cans of green beans. College students do not eat green beans,” Perkins said. “I’m a 35-year-old adult, and I eat green beans maybe once or twice a week. For crying out loud, nobody’s going to open up a can of green beans. It’s not what they want.”

Through a recently formed partnership, BBP has begun donating food items it doesn’t need to another on campus food initiative. Farm-to-Fork, a division of Campus Kitchen, uses surplus foods from locations on campus to cook and serve fresh meals to UK students on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Funkhouser Building room 207. 

Farm-to-Fork co-chair Micaila Oberle said the reliability of the pantry is very helpful when Farm-to-Fork is unable to get all the materials they need from grocery store surplus. 

“Since we are dependent on grocery stores for our food, it’s hit or miss with what we get each week,” Oberle said. “The nice thing about this Big Blue Pantry partnership is that since a lot of their food is canned, we can utilize that in our meals.”

Through donation drives and Kroger runs, Perkins is able to keep the pantry mostly stocked throughout the week. Offering canned foods, dry goods, pasta, milk, eggs, fresh produce and more, BBP has run into a space problem.  

Big Blue Pantry is located in a small room at the bottom of White Hall Classroom Building. Perkins feels this location, while not only being stock restricting, contributes to a stigma around use of BBP. Some students feel they have too much financial freedom to use the pantry, but Perkins insisted that BBP is for everyone. 

“The most important thing is to let people know that this is here, and it is available,” he said. “I’m just here to give people food. If you’re here and you want food, take it.”

Big Blue Pantry is currently accepting donations for the 2022 SEC Food Fight, a friendly competition created to help fight food insecurity on college campuses. All individually packaged items, as well as each dollar raised between April 8-21, count as one point towards the SEC Food Fight. 

Food can be dropped off at the pantry anytime from April 8-21. Monetary donations must be made through the BBP gift fund website.