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Big Orange Pantry: A Year in Review and Looking Forward

If you’ve not yet made it over to the newly renovated first floor of Greve Hall, then you may have missed a new addition to the campus, the Big Orange Pantry. Since its grand opening one year ago, the pantry has been a resource to students facing food insecurity.

Supported by the Office of the Dean of Students, the pantry complements the other efforts across campus to provide meals and other necessities to students, such as the Big Orange Meal Share, the Grow Lab, and the newly launched Food4All program.

“Students have told us that because of BOP they have been able to focus more in the classroom as well as in their jobs,” said Associate Dean of Students Joe Pierce. “The food we offer fulfills a need that allows UT students to persist through difficult and challenging circumstances. Many of these students without the pantry would be missing entire meals and may be rethinking whether UT is the right place for them. Our data shows that patrons identify BOP as another way that UT shows that they matter and belong.”

Since November of 2020, the Big Orange Pantry has fulfilled more than 2,300 orders. Students can order a variety of items such as fresh produce, canned goods, pantry staples, and hygiene products. In just six months, the pantry distributed over 8,000 pounds of food. Between August and October of 2021, the pantry fulfilled more than 1,400 orders.

“Big Orange Pantry is a powerful reflection of our Volunteer values,
said Evan Oliver, Big Orange Pantry coordinator. “Through pantry efforts, we attempt to uplift our entire community (all students, faculty, and staff) by meeting basic needs. While stigma exists in accessing food assistance services, feedback from patrons indicates our space has consistently provided useful goods and a comfortable environment. We are so grateful and excited to continue developing this resource for our Vol Family!”

The pantry is not limited to just students, as faculty and staff are also welcomed to utilize this campus resource. The shopping process works in two ways: after completing an application, patrons can complete an order form requesting nonperishable items and a time to pick up their order. The pantry sets hours where members of the UT community can visit and shop for fresh items they need, such as produce.

“The Big Orange Pantry has made such a large impact on the UTK community in such a short period of time,” said Ellie Mundale, Big Orange Pantry Social Work intern. “Being part of a network of care that not only addresses basic needs, but also raises awareness about issues affecting campus, has been an incredible experience. We are constantly working to improve our services and make the Pantry more efficient, accessible, and friendly to all Vols.”

Thanks to the generous donation of Donnie and Terry Smith, the university was able to bring vision to reality. In addition, fundraisers and donation drives assist the pantry in providing ongoing resources. Partnership has been key to the Big Orange Pantry’s success over the year. Working with departments and colleges across campus allows for more students to learn about the pantry and how they can benefit from it.

“Food insecurity is a huge issue in the international student community,” said Ekramul Ehite, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Biosystems Engineering. “However, due to cultural reasons and ease of access issues (e.g.: not having a car), we won’t often go to regular food pantries. Having BOP on campus, supported and promoted by the Office of the Dean of Students has taken off the stigma and led to us accessing nutritious foods regularly. I can personally attest that not having to worry about getting fresh food and vegetables has improved my physical and mental health immensely and resulted in inarguably the most successful academic year I have had in graduate school.”

In addition to collaboration, volunteers have also impacted how the pantry is serving students. After one year, 182 volunteers have given time to assist the pantry. These volunteers come from offices and organizations such as the UT Lead program, National Pan-Hellenic Council, and the Tickle College of Engineering for day and month-long service opportunities.

“We continue to invest because we have just scratched the surface,” Pierce said. “Access to healthy food is a big component of basic needs support, but it’s not all of it. We hope to greatly increase our food sourcing efforts. These efforts should lead us to a more grocery store experience that offers more chances at getting fresh vegetables and protein. We also continue to invest because our donors and division can clearly see the impact that BOP has on our students, faculty, and staff. Our stakeholders realize that we are able to turn resources into actual benefit for our patrons.”


Contact: Alyssa Seisser (aseisser@utk.edu)