As the pandemic hit pocketbooks and changed rules of safety, the Hitchcock Field & Fork Pantry responded with new ways of closing the hunger gap.
Hungry stomachs didn’t stop rumbling when COVID-19 closed the UF campus in mid-March.
Plenty of students stayed behind in Gainesville, and when Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a 30-day statewide shutdown on April 2, some were left jobless – and with no reliable way to put nutritious meals on the table.
Fortunately, the Alan and Cathy Hitchcock Field & Fork Pantry stepped in to fill the hunger gap. The acclaimed food pantry on the Reitz Lawn pivoted from ordinary operations to pandemic response, remaining open every week of the crisis for at least 20 hours per week.
That service has been a lifesaver not only for the Hitchcock Pantry’s remaining regular customers but also for new ones, says Brittani Trimble (BA ’19), a member of AmeriCorps’ Care Team VISTA who has been overseeing operations at the Hitchcock Pantry since March.
“We saw a lot more new faces once COVID hit,” said Trimble. “And although we have fewer students overall now, we are distributing more food to each person. This service is so needed.”
Between March 12 and June 17, the Hitchcock Pantry distributed more than 26,000 pounds of donated food, with more than 2,200 visitor transactions logged. To facilitate quick shopping, the Pantry began offering prebagged groceries with a variety of nutritious items for a balanced diet. In-store shopping was replaced by one-click online ordering and curbside pickup to preserve social distancing.
In just two weeks, computer specialists from the Dean of Students Office developed a customizable online ordering system to give Pantry customers a choice of food items rather than just premade bags, Trimble said.
“We wanted to give customers back that real shopping experience,” she said. “Picking and choosing the foods they want – plus being able to order paper towels and toilet paper, which have been really hard to come by.”
People have such gratitude in their voices. Some are people who just lost their jobs and are coming to the Pantry for the first time – some didn’t even know we existed.
— Brittani Trimble (BA ’19), Hitchcock Pantry manager —
The Pantry also partnered with UF’s Graduate and Family Housing division to make scheduled drop-offs of prebagged groceries to on-campus “villages” so Gators could avoid coming to the more populated central part of campus.
Likewise, social media channels for UF’s Field & Fork Program began showcasing “quarantine-friendly recipes” demonstrated by Global Kitchen team members. Offerings include lasagna, black bean salsa, vegetarian burgers and fresh pasta.
While the pandemic upended business as usual at the Pantry, determined donors and volunteers kept operations flowing smoothly – even staying open during the usual break between spring and summer classes.
When the Pantry’s student workforce left the Gainesville campus in mid-March, UF faculty and staff – particularly those from IFAS/CALS and the Division of Student Affairs – tied on aprons and hunkered down to unload, sort through and shelve donated fresh food and nonperishables.
Likewise, the Gator Nation came together with an outpouring of donations, both edible and monetary.
Dozens of alumni reached deep into their pockets to make significant financial gifts, and UF Student Government transferred unspent concession funds to purchase much-needed items, like high-protein foods. Likewise, UF senior vice president and COO Charlie Lane, along with UF’s Business Affairs Division, made much-needed contributions to keep the Pantry going when typical donation channels, such as the end-of-year housing food drive, were canceled.
The outpouring of support for the Pantry is deeply gratifying to see, said Trimble.
“The Pantry has always brought the UF community together for the greater good,” she said. “This health crisis has brought out even more of that spirit. So many different teams from around campus have come together to create new solutions.”
Trimble admits alleviating food insecurity during a pandemic and an economic slowdown is a daunting challenge. But helping her fellow Gators makes the effort all worthwhile, she said.
“We get thanked every day,” she said. “People have such gratitude in their voices. Some are people who just lost their jobs and are coming to the Pantry for the first time – some didn’t even know we existed.
“What I want to tell the Gator Nation is, we’re here for people. If they’re scared of using the pantry, just come by. We have a lot of friendly helpers who are glad to explain how it all works. And if people are in a position to donate food or money – that is amazing.”
Be a Part of the Hitchcock Pantry Family
- Visit the online site to make a monetary, tax-deductible gift to the Pantry.
- Do you live in the Gainesville area and have any food you would like to donate? Visit the Pantry on the Reitz Lawn and make your donation today. Here is the Pantry’s current wish list.
- Are you a UF student or staff member who is currently experiencing food insecurity? Bring a valid UF ID to the Hitchcock Pantry during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, to pick up a premade bag. (Hours here.) To customize your order 24 hours before pickup, fill out the online order form here.