By Eric D. Lehman
University of Bridgeport’s commitment to student success takes many forms. Whether helping students afford a college education by offering financial aid awards and keeping tuition rates low, or supporting academic success through tutoring, academic advising, and career development in the school’s state-of-the-art student center, the Heckman Center, UB has invested in resources to support students from all backgrounds and with all types of needs.
One of the lesser-known resources we offer to UB students is the Knight’s Pantry, a food pantry to help individuals experiencing food insecurity and other health needs.
The idea for the Knight’s Pantry was born in spring 2021. Due to growing food insecurity during the pandemic, the Thomas Merton Center of Bridgeport reached out and asked if any UB students had food needs that weren’t being met. In response, Director of Student Involvement, Kelli Meyer, and Director of Civic Engagement, Melanie Strout, established the Knight’s Pantry that fall. UB had previously worked with The Merton Center, supplying student interns for their many community programs, so the partnership was a natural fit. Soon after another partner, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, jumped on board.
“Everyone here at UB wants to help,” says Melanie Strout, who continues to run the Pantry. “This is just another one of UB’s many services to our students.”
The Knight’s Pantry, scheduled to upgrade to a new location in 2023, is currently located on the 2nd floor of the Wahlstrom Library in the Heckman Center, offering non-perishable food items and personal hygiene products. Students can place requests online and pick-up their selections at their convenience, and on select days of the week, students can even stop by and shop in person. All UB students are eligible to use the Pantry monthly on the honor system.
Since October 2021, 686 students have benefited from this service.
“Anything we can do to help our students feel like all their needs are being met is a good thing,” says Dean of Students Craig Lennon. “It also shines a light on food insecurity during January, which is National Poverty Awareness Month.”
“It’s an important resource for us to be able to offer,” agrees Strout. “We want to holistically look at what student needs are to better serve the entire student and make sure all of our students have the same opportunities to succeed.”
With initial support from Thomas Merton Center and Bridgeport Rescue Mission, the idea quickly spread. Members of the UB community and alumni jumped in to help, donating food, money, and time to get the Pantry off the ground. Interns from the Human Services program helped by packing bags and managing the open shopping hours during spring semester. Stop & Shop’s School Food Pantry Program has donated $5,000 worth of store gift cards to use for food and personal care items. Donations have also arrived from Costco, Sodexo, and Connecticut Food Share, which donates food to UB as a partner site.
The relationships between the community and our students make the University stronger. “The Knight’s Pantry demonstrates our mission to support diverse student learners and remove barriers to learning,” says University of Bridgeport President Danielle Wilken. “Those barriers are not always academic, but they often impact students both in and out of the classroom.”
Donations from the community are always accepted and can be dropped off at the Heckman Center (Wahlstrom Library, 126 Park Ave. 2nd floor), Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. Contact Melanie Strout at firstname.lastname@example.org or 475-422-1065 to coordinate a time to drop off or pick up donations.
*Based on fall 2021 data.