Purple Pantry ready to help students during holidays

The Purple Pantry targets food insecurity on the campus of East Carolina University, and now in its second year, it has experienced an increase in the number of students it serves.

Still, organizers know the holidays can bring extra financial burdens to students who may be trying to balance their budgets at the risk of getting healthy meals.

Corn and other nonperishable food is stocked in the new student service learning lab in the Science and Technology Building at East Carolina University. The lab supports ECU’s Purple Pantry, a food bank on campus designed to help students with food insecurity. (Photo by Ken Buday)

Jarmichael Harris, coordinator of ECU Collegiate Recovery Community whose student volunteers run the pantry, said the pantry served about 40 people total during the fall semester of 2018. Now that the pantry has relocated to the basement of the Main Campus Student Center, it sees nearly that number per month.

“We’re now serving about 25 to 30 students per month,” Harris said. “Students can come in, show their 1 Card and shop as they need to. The average student usually takes about 8 to 10 pounds of food per visit, and there is no limit on the amount of food they can take.”

The pantry is designed to provide free nonperishable food to ECU students. It has personal hygiene items as well.

“This service is very much in need on college campuses across the country,” Harris said. “The Purple Pantry not only provides proper nourishment to our students, but let’s them know that ECU understands their situation and needs.”

The pantry has gained an ally in its battle against food insecurity in the form of a new student service learning lab designed to simulate many of the concepts from the Industrial Distribution and Logistics (IDIS) degree program.

The new student service learning lab designed to serve as a distribution center for the Purple Pantry is taking shape in the Science and Technology Building at East Carolina University (Photo by Ken Buday)

The lab, located in the Science and Technology Building, will serve as a central warehouse for food reserves for the pantry. Student volunteers will operate the lab, running it much like any distribution center they would encounter in business and industry.

JDA Software’s University Gifting Program is donating computer software for the lab, and Open Sky Group is donating services to implement the JDA Warehouse Management software that will help the students track the food from the time it is donated through the time it is shipped to the pantry, and eventually, picked up by the students.

“This is an exciting project for Open Sky Group,” said Jason Yantiss, vice president of client services for Open Sky Group. “It’s important for us as a company to give back to the communities in which we work and live. When we can combine that with what we love to do best — improve processes and implement software — that really makes our day. We’re looking forward to what we can achieve together with the students and professors at ECU to not only give them real world business experience, but also benefit those who might otherwise struggle to get the nourishment they need.”

Wayland Fox, senior director of product management at JDA said: “We’re happy to provide software for this effort at ECU, as part of our efforts to expose students to our industry-leading supply chain solutions. Hands-on training is an incredibly valuable way to help them understand supply chain concepts and apply them to their career skills and pursuits when they graduate. JDA encourages giving back to the community and allows associates to volunteer time throughout the year for charitable causes.  Providing software for the Purple Pantry is another way we can give back and help students in need.”

The new student service learning lab will have room for thousands of pounds of food storage. (Photo by Ken Buday)

The lab is currently in a developmental start-up mode, with a goal to get the operation completely up and running in the spring semester.

ECU Transit has also agreed to support operations by providing delivery of donations to the lab and transport of food to the pantry so its shelves can be restocked.

Dr. Mark Angolia, associate professor and IDIS program coordinator, said the whole idea behind the lab is for students to help students while fostering the university’s academic and service missions. It’s also bringing the ECU community together with multiple departments supporting an effort to ensure students can overcome food insecurity.

“Service is our motto,” Harris said. “We consider ourselves a service institution.”

The pantry is open from 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Holiday hours may vary. For more information, visit https://collegiaterecovery.ecu.edu/purple-pantry/.