Completing the food cycle at UNCP

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CARE Center
CARE Resource Center students Jacob Locklear Stewart, left, and Alaqua Jacobs, shown here during a recent visit to Bernice Oxendine’s farm

In 2019-20, UNC Pembroke’s CARE Resource Center helped divert 60,000 pounds of food from being wasted while working to alleviate local food insecurity and also lending support to local farmers.

The CARE Resource Center is in partnership with local agencies and businesses, including Sodexo and Second Harvest Food Bank, to implement the food recovery practices of preventing surplus food items from being trashed in the landfill. The Center rescues unspoiled, healthy foods from UNCP’s dining facilities (Starbucks, Cafe 641 and Einstein Bros. Bagels) as well as packaged food from the local Walmart location. The food that is not consumed by people is then recycled into animal feed or compost to aid in the regrowth of food production.

“This process is a tremendous example of UNCP’s commitment to serving our campus community, addressing food insecurity and to living sustainably,” explained director of Community and Civic Engagement Christie Poteet.

Throughout these partnerships, the food cycle is working efficiently to serve the UNCP community. The entry of the cycle begins with food production via local farmers, then moves to distribution and consumption of food before entering the food rescue phase. Here we see the retrieval of unspoiled/healthy food from businesses head to food pantries, like UNCP’s on-campus CARE Resource Center.

Perfectly healthy, consumable food that would otherwise have been discarded as waste, is made available to those facing food insecurity. The next phase of the food cycle is referred to as food recycling, where any food not consumed at the pantries is sent back to local farmers as waste. The farmers then redistribute the food waste and convert it into organic compost that feeds their livestock or as compost that serves as a rich fertilizer. The CARE Resource Center is in partnership with two local farmers, Bernice Oxendine and Doug Locklear, to complete the food cycle in the redistribution phase.

“At every phase there is food waste, but with advocacy and knowledge we can reduce the waste and in turn reduce our carbon footprint in the world,” explained Deborah Gunsallus with NC Campus Compact Americorp VISTA Hunger Corps.

Another key component to this cycle is Sodexo’s partnership with New Ground Farms. While the university is purchasing food from the farm, it is also teaching a service-learning American Indian Studies course, taught by Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, that works with the farm. Through the project, students are learning about and assisting with agricultural sustainability practices of a local Native American farmer.

Community and Civic Engagement (CCE) began the food recovery process with Sodexo at UNCP in 2015. At the time, CCE joined the Food Recovery Network where volunteers would recover food from the cafeteria location and then donate it to a local nonprofit. Because the food from this initiative was not individually packaged and would require unavailable food storage methods, it could not go directly to the on-campus food pantry. When the university’s retail food locations began to grow, and pre-packaged food sales were expanded, Sodexo was able to partner with CCE’s CARE Resource Center to recover food that directly benefits students in need of assistance.

Similarly, CCE’s food recovery partnership with Walmart began in 2018. This component has allowed the center to exponentially expand its capacity to serve students. Student staff members pick up the donations three times per week and check items closely before stocking the CARE Resource Center.  
 “The CARE Resource Center is able to directly impact the lives of students, faculty, staff and community members because of the partnerships within the food cycle,” stated Poteet. “We are incredibly thankful to be part of this system and know efforts at all levels of food distribution and consumption are vital to helping those in need,” she continued.

The UNCP CARE Resource Center includes an on-campus food pantry and professional clothing closet that is open to students, faculty, staff and community members. Students are welcome to visit the pantry twice per month, while faculty and staff are welcome once per month. Community members who wish to receive food services are required to attend monthly educational workshops focused on life and career development skills. Upon completion of each workshop, participants are awarded a CARE Resource voucher to use at the pantry. Though the CARE Resource Center is housed under the Office for Community and Civic Engagement, it is primarily managed by student workers and student volunteers.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, the department saw 3,196 visits to the CARE Center. In 2020-2021 there have been 1,778 visits. The reduced traffic is attributed to a lower number of students living on campus because of the pandemic. The department remains committed to recovering food to aid those who have remained on campus throughout the unprecedented events.