Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a story that was first published in April on the University of Arkansas Determined website.
The Full Circle Campus Food Pantry in Fayetteville continued to operate and serve hundreds of clients during the COVID-19 pandemic largely due to the dedication of Sage McCoy.
McCoy is the coordinator of Food Programs for the Center for Community Engagement, a department in the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Arkansas.
“As universities across the U.S. started to move classes online and move students off campus, the Full Circle team began to get anxious,” McCoy said. “My students’ first thoughts, before concern for themselves, were ‘what about our clients and how can we continue to serve?'”
The Food Pantry was able to remain flexible as the U of A campus moved to online classes March 16, setting up a tent outside and having only student leaders in the space to fill the orders. Once the university moved to remote operations on March 19, they had to limit pantry operations.
“Full Circle Fast Bags were our answer to the question of how we could continue to serve our community without fully interacting with our community. We wanted to maintain and encourage social distancing but still serve those in need,” McCoy said. “We asked that clients take one bag for every two people in their household. These bags have a bit more than we would normally put in one order in hopes that folks do not need to make more than one trip to the pantry in a week, limiting social interactions and need for leaving the house.”
One of the issues is the supply chain. Food banks are having a hard time keeping product to share with food pantries. Grocery stores are limiting the number of cans of vegetables, meat and other items, making it nearly impossible for food pantry staff to make needed purchases.
The month of April is normally a time when the food pantry would have major food drives to resupply its shelves, those drives did not happen due to the circumstances of the pandemic.
Some local restaurants, businesses and farms have made donations including the Freight Farm on campus. Tri Cycle Farms’ Whole Food Recovery program has been supplying recovered produce and product from Whole Foods. Some monetary donations have come in as well, but it is not enough. The pantry is in need of proteins such as peanut butter, canned meat and canned beans such as pinto, kidney, and black beans.
Monetary donations are preferred, and it is very easy to make an online monetary donation to the Food Pantry here.
“We would really appreciate any monetary donations people may be able to make during this difficult time,” McCoy said. “I think more new people are more willing to ask for assistance in the time of the pandemic.”
And that has held true. In April, the pantry served 1,437 household members and passed out 826 Full Circle Fast Bags. On April 13, which was a day fresh produce was available, the pantry had 137 visitors in 2.5 hours, 87 of which were visiting the pantry for their very first time.
“When we opened our door at 3 there was a line of folks that extended down to Stadium Drive,” McCoy said. “To my knowledge, the Pantry has never seen a line like that!”
McCoy is passionate about her work with students and helping people with food insecurity find their next meal, which is something she knows all about from first-hand experience.
“In grad school I had a graduate assistantship position in the Office of Student Activities with Associated Student Government and truly fell in love with advising students,” McCoy said. “Being a GA is rewarding, but I was struggling financially.”
McCoy said her supervisor at the time pointed her towards Claire Allison, assistant director of the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), who has special training in helping people apply for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.
“She helped me navigate the application process and got me in touch with professionals at the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and I was able to receive benefits,” McCoy said. “Being on SNAP opened my eyes to how helpful the program could be but also how much of a pain it is to maintain receiving the benefits regardless of need.”
As she continued her work as a GA advising students in student government, the Food Pantry and working with food insecurity kept coming up.
“I volunteered during the Food Pantry remodel. I advocated for it and raised money for it during my time as a Hog Caller with the Annual Fund,” McCoy said. “I got to attend a training provided by the CCE to learn how to help others navigate the SNAP process, much like Claire did for me.”
Her love for the work of advising students and helping alleviate food insecurity issues turned out to be worthwhile for everyone.
“When I started my job search, and this position opened up, it seemed like the perfect fit,” McCoy said. “So here I am, advising 18 student leaders, navigating a pandemic while running a pantry and working remote when I can. And I work with a team of wonderful, caring humans who make working in this field even better.”
Claire Allison is one of those team members and said Sage totally committed to helping others.
“Sage has never wavered in her commitment to serving our students and helping them to serve our community. She has shown incredible compassion, innovation and dedication during this challenging time. She is an exemplary role model for our student leaders and an invaluable asset to our university community,” Allison said.
Angela Oxford, director of the Center for Community Engagement, is another of those team members.
“Sage continues to go above and beyond in her work as our Food Program Coordinator. She has a passion for service and making sure people stay fed is at her core. Sage has spent countless hours in the pantry filling bags with small teams of students all practicing social distancing to create “fast bags” for pick up.” Oxford said. “We always consider someone’s passion for service when we hire new team members and Sage embodies that spirit of service and heart of compassion.”
Jeannie Hulen, an associate dean at the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and ceramics professor in the School of Art, is working with McCoy to expand the Food Pantry’s reach.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, Hulen has been running the Ceramics Studio Outpost for the Food Pantry, providing a second easy-access point on campus where people can pick up some of the pre-made “grab and go” Full Circle Fast Bags that contain food or household goods.
“Sage does so much for so many people and I have learned a lot from her in this short time of getting to work with her,” Hulen said. “She is the hero in this crisis, as are all who work in places that help people with the greatest needs.”
For the most up to date information on the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry, including operation hours and locations please visit https://service.uark.edu/services/pantry/ or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/UAFullCircle/
If you’d like to financially contribute to the Full Circle Food Pantry, you can go to the Full Circle Food Pantry giving page.
You can help give back to your community and help local students with every purchase of this ultra-soft Razorback Strong tee. Together we will triumph through this tough time. 50% of all proceeds of this t-shirt will be distributed to The Student Emergency Fund & The Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry.
The Student Emergency Fund was established to assist students with financial hardships outside of their control such as loss of job or hours cut short. With the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 many are struggling to make ends meet with food, rent payments, technology needs, car payments and much more. The emergency fund has had a very high level of student applications at this unprecedented time.
About the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry: The Food Pantry was established by the Volunteer Action Center in February 2011 as a student-run emergency food assistance program. The pantry serves clients with well balanced meals through non-perishables and fresh produce from the pantry garden.
The pantry is available to anyone with a U of A or UAMS ID: students, staff, and faculty, as well as temporary and hourly employees. Clients never need to show proof of need, just a U of A or UAMS ID.