A University of Michigan-Dearborn student walked into a closed meeting on campus, eyeing the refreshment table.
“Can anyone have this food?” the student asked.
The boldness of the question caught some by surprise, but affirmed a suspicion Amy Karaban had.
“Students sometimes joke that with the food at events and student org meetings you’ll never go hungry on campus,” said Karaban, assistant director of civic engagement. “But there are students who aren’t getting enough to eat. There was a need to do something about that.”
To that end, UM-Dearborn officially opened the Student Food Pantry this Monday, Jan. 21. Chancellor Daniel Little led the ribbon-cutting ceremony as part of the university’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.
While the ceremony marked the official opening, the pantry began serving clients during fall semester.
“We’ve had 35 visits so far, serving 12 clients,” Karaban said. “We’re averaging one new client a week now.”
Word spread quickly among staff and faculty members, who have donated goods and funds and have referred students to the pantry.
With each new client, pantry staff members stress one rule: preserve the clients’ dignity.
Mix-and-match grocery bags assure there’s no one “Food Pantry bag” on campus; a business card system with assigned client numbers means students don’t have to announce why they’re there—they simply show the card at the desk and walk back to the pantry; and a client-choice model allows students to determine which foods are best for them and their families.
Karaban’s also sensitive about the food that comes into the pantry.
“The rule is, ‘If it’s not good enough for your family, it’s not good enough for our clients,” she said.
Students Tala Nchamukong, Aryka Rice, Lena Saleh and Branden Nathan have worked with Karaban from the beginning.
For them, the ribbon-cutting ceremony was a culmination of months of work.
“Students drive the whole process. They approached me with the idea and toured neighboring pantries for ideas. They run the day-to-day operations,” she said. “They understand how easily it could be any of us in need of food.”
As they work to reach everyone on campus who has a need, they focus on helping one person at a time.
“We all have these huge ideas and want to make a big impact; sometimes it’s difficult to start with something small,” Karaban said. “But Mother Teresa had a great quote: ‘If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.’ We knew we were making a difference the day we served our first client.”
The Student Food Pantry is located in the Community Involvement and Volunteerism Center (CIViC) on the first floor of the University Center. Interested in learning how you can get involved? Email Karaban or call her at 313-593-6589.