PantryRUN Fulfills a Need in the Face of High Food Prices

Hend El-Buri, director of PantryRUN, left, helps prepare packages of food with student workers Shatiah Bulger, center, and Karyna Anderson. PHOTO CREDIT: Yolenni Torres

As grocery prices have increased in 2022, so have the numbers of students turning to the food pantry
serving the Rutgers University–Newark community. “We've had a lot of new users,” says Hend El-Buri,
director of PantryRUN. “Many are people who have never needed to ask for help.”

El-Buri says the cost of eggs has almost doubled, partly due to inflation and partly due to the bird flu
outbreak, and that milk has also increased dramatically. "There are more people who suddenly are
experiencing pain at the supermarket," she says. "Some people are realizing, ‘Oh my gosh. We have to
cut back on something.’”

The average number of students picking up food at PantryRUN has increased to about 275 per week,
near pre-pandemic usage, and up from 175 per week in 2021. In November alone, the pantry provided
food for 1,200 students. The pantry strives to destigmatize using a food pantry, which allows students to
place orders online and pick up their packages instead of standing in line. The pantry has averaged about
160 new users per month over the last three months. El-Buri says she’s happy to see more students
benefitting and she expects that usage is likely to continue to rise.

In addition to providing food to students, the food pantry also assists students who are eligible in signing
up for New Jersey's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (NJ SNAP). “We know that about 18
percent of students are eligible for SNAP, but only about three percent are utilizing those benefits," she

As costs for shoppers have gone up, so have expenses for the pantry. In addition to more overhead for
eggs and milk, the pantry now pays more for popular items such as cereal and garlic. Although a
campaign to raise funds for all four Rutgers food pantries ended successfully in November with more
than 600 financial gifts, the need to help more students facing food insecurity remains. “We greatly appreciate the support that we received from our alumni and other donors in the Stop Student Hunger campaign,” says Robin Semple, vice chancellor for development at Rutgers–Newark.

“The need to support our students struggling to feed themselves and their families continues year-round, especially in light of the high cost of groceries,'' she added.

In addition to the Rutgers–Newark pantry, which opened in 2017, three other food pantries serve
Rutgers students: the Rutgers University–Camden Raptor Pantry, the Rutgers–New Brunswick Student
Food Pantry, and the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) Food Pantry at Newark Health

Yolenni Torres, a graduate coordinator for the Rutgers–Newark pantry, has lived on campus as a student
since 2018. Having earned her bachelor's degree in public and nonprofit administration in 2022, she is
pursuing a master’s degree in public administration. She says the pantry fills an essential need she can
speak to firsthand. "I've experienced food insecurity, and I know students here who have experienced
food insecurity,” Torres says.

Torres works on spreading awareness of the food pantry and helping it fulfill goals beyond assisting
students in meeting their basic nutritional needs. El-Buri says other pantry goals include educating
students on food literacy, building community, and food sustainability. A recent well-attended event
Torres helped with focused on educating students about cultural differences in foods. “It was nice to see
all of the diversity,” Torres says.

The pantry also fulfills a vital role in supporting students in other ways. El-Buri says in addition to helping
students access NJ SNAP benefits, they provide support in other ways, such as providing free menstrual
products to students through a partnership with the Girls Helping Girls Period organization. In addition,
the pantry staff can identify students in crisis and connect them to the Rutgers–Newark Campus
Awareness Response and Education (CARE) team program.

“If we learn a student is living in their car or had a fire at their house, we'll find a way to make sure they get support and have three meals a day.”

The PantryRUN is a partner of and a neighbor to the JBJ Soul Kitchen, which reopened in October. The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation originally opened the restaurant in January 2020 in collaboration with food service provider Gourmet Dining and Rutgers–Newark. JBJ Soul Kitchen shares the food pantry's mission of fighting food insecurity on the Rutgers University–Newark campus through donations and volunteer
service and donates storage space to the food pantry.

El-Buri says the pantry often refers students to the JBJ Soul Kitchen and plans to make certificates available for vulnerable students to eat there. "It’s a very dignified, pleasant experience for the students,” she says.

Make a donation to PantryRUN here.