Bucky’s Food Pantry at ETSU helps fight food

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — In 2022, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) asked all institutions of higher learning in the state to identify how they are addressing food insecurity among students. East Tennessee State University (ETSU) is addressing those needs with its Bucky’s Food Pantry Program.

ETSU, along with other institutions in the state, contributed information on the Food Insecurity in
Tennessee Higher Education report.

In 2011, the idea of Bucky’s Food Pantry was established by David Shields, an ETSU social work graduate student.

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“He got together with a gentleman by the name of Dr. Mike Smith, who was the chair of social work at the time, and Dr. Dan Brown who was the director of the counseling center here,” Charles “Chuck” Patton, Chair of Bucky’s Food Pantry Advisory Committee, said. “They put together an ad hoc committee, and that’s that’s how all of this came to be.”

Patton said Shields saw a need for the pantry with so many students being food insecure.

“Basically food insecurity is nothing more than not being able to access food, nutritional food on a daily basis and three square meals a day as it used to be called,” Patton said.

Bucky’s Food Pantry has three locations, the walk-in pantry at the Culp Center, one at Buc Ridge Housing where they build boxes and store food and a distribution center at the ETSU and Kingsport Allendale campus.

The pantry is available to students, staff, faculty, retirees and alumni.

Daily food is available at the Culp Center location. For food boxes, an application needs to be filled out.

Bucky’s Food Pantry gets its donations through various ways.

“We have bins around campus where students can donate food,” Amy Deel, the Bucky’s Food Pantry Coordinator at the Culp Center Location, said. “We also are partnered with Second Harvest and through Second Harvest, we pick up from three different local grocery stores each week. All of them we pick up from twice a week. Beyond that, we also depend on donor money through the ETSU website, and that is a way that we can buy food through Second Harvest to fill in the gaps of what gets donated physically.”

Bucky’s Food Pantry has food cans, bread, beans, cereal, baked goods, fruits, vegetables, meats, sometimes frozen meals and much more.

Both Patton and Deel said food insecurity can impact students academically.

“If they’re not getting enough nutrition, then it starts to affect their mental and their physical health,” Patton said. “Once that happens, then their GPA is going to go down.”

Deel said she knows this because she gets the chance to build a rapport and relationship with the students.

“So for some of them, having food access means the difference in them being able to stay enrolled or not,” Deel said. “A lot of them tell me how impactful it’s been that they’re able to get donated meal swipes from our program that we have. It helps them when they’re studying, and that helps them be able to do better on their exams when they know that they can just swing by the dining hall and use one of those donated meal swipes so that they can access food that day.”

Anabelle Krejci is a student worker in Bucky’s Food Pantry and encourages more people to use this resource.

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“There’s really a lot more food in here sometimes than people can take, especially bread that can just be used because being a college student is expensive,” Krejci said. “There’s also a lot of foreign exchange students that come here. The exchange rate for money is really terrible. So oftentimes they use this resource to get food, which I think is great.”

There is a painting of the Bucky’s Food Pantry logo on the campus’s pride walk, but Krejci believes more advertising needs to be done.

“I really think that we could probably just start using social media a little bit more so that people know that it exists, because it’s kind of tucked behind our main building and there’s not really a connection in between, like where people are walking normally,” Krejci said.

Both Deel and Krejci said the food pantry is a safe space for students to talk about their needs.

“I see students come in sometimes they just want to talk about their day,” Deel said. “Sometimes they need more than just food. We also connect them with local resources that they need. Sometimes it’s clothing, sometimes it’s diapers or baby needs.”

“Occasionally, we will have students who need help with rent and we can partner them with different resources here at ETSU or outside of campus in Johnson City as well,” Deel said.

Bucky’s Food Pantry also has a few essential items like toiletries.

A one-time food box is available for people outside of the ETSU community. Bucky’s Food Pantry will then help connect them to other food resources.

“Since July of 2022, we have helped over 4,000 people, both children and students, faculty, staff, families and whatnot,” Patton said. “And we’ve given out over 1,800 boxes.”

You can donate to Bucky’s Food Pantry during the university’s Annual Day of Giving on April 16 or anytime on their website.

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One of Bucky’s Food Pantry’s goals is to have a permanent position be made.

“Currently, it is mostly volunteers and student workers that we have,” Deel said. “I am there through the AmeriCorps program and I have one year and a few months left that I can do that program.”

There is also an ongoing effort to put together a survey of how many students experience food insecurity.

You can find hours of operation and more information on Bucky’s Food Pantry’s website.

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