#GivingTuesday: Student’s Plight with Food Insecurity Launches Food Pantry at Lewis Katz School of Medicine
Shortly after Stephanie Javier Fagbemi was elected president of the Student Government Association (SGA) at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine in May, she began asking fellow students to suggest how to use $2,000 in funds that had been carried over from the year before.
There was banter at first about buying a pool table or maybe T-shirts, but that came to a halt when a classmate opened up to Fagbemi about having a lifelong challenge with food insecurity — a problem that had endured even through medical school. What about using the money to make sure medical students didn’t go hungry?
“We were all inspired by this student’s idea,” Fagbemi said.
In 2018, Temple University opened the Cherry Pantry in the Howard Gittis Student Center on Main Campus. The Pantry supports the Temple community by supplying healthy and nutritious food for anyone who needs it. When the students began to organize the Katz School of Medicine Pantry, Dione Cash, MD, MPH, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Career Development and the faculty liaison to the food pantry consulted with the Dean of Students on Main Campus.
“We wanted to hear how the pantry worked on Main Campus, what would be the best set up for our students and how we can identify students who might need more assistance than others,” said Dr. Cash.
The food pantry opened during the fall semester in the student lounge in the Medical Education and Research Building. Shelves underneath a counter were stocked with lots of healthy snacks such as veggie chips, peanut butter crackers, applesauce, granola bars, and noodles for something hot.
“I think it’s amazing to see our students recognize and shine a light on a problem that I think most people hadn’t considered could be an issue for professional students,” said Dr. Cash. “There is a perception that once students enroll in medical school, there’s a certain degree of financial security that is inherent, and that’s obviously not true.”
“We want to do everything possible, so our students can focus on their medical education,” said Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, Interim Dean, Lewis Katz School of Medicine. “We don’t want our students to have to worry about going hungry or housing insecurity or any other problems they might have in making ends meet.”
Integrated with Dr. Goldberg’s initiative to increase student wellness programs at the School, the Katz Student Wellness Fund is dedicated to supporting the food pantry and to addressing other wellness needs among students. The fund will be highlighted on November 30 as part of the Giving Tuesday campaign.
Philanthropic donations will be used to provide additional support to help the SGA keep the shelves full of nutritious options for students.
Dr. Cash added, “We hope to expand the pantry to offer additional foods, including proteins, hot meal options, as well as healthy beverages and local fresh food.”
The food pantry is run on honor system that does not require students to show financial need. To be sensitive to any stigma associated with needing free food, the student lounge was chosen as the pantry’s home because it is easily accessible and visited frequently.
“I think it’s important that students can get food when they need it, and in a way that they will not feel judged or exposed,” said Dr. Cash.
Fagbemi, who is currently interviewing for residency training in psychiatry after graduation, said that she hopes that in the future the need for the Pantry disappears.
“Students are just inundated with bills to pay for school and school is a full-time activity. So, if you don’t have an extra source of income or if your family can’t help support you, paying for food can be a struggle. I hope there will come a time when the Pantry isn’t needed anymore because students would not be faced with such economic issues when they go to medical school.”
Ms. Fagbemi, fellow SGA members, Dr.Goldberg, Katz School of Medicine leadership, and donors are working together to help make that hope a reality.