Project Overview

Erica Davis, a senior at the University of Tennessee, spearheaded a food recovery project called Smokey’s Pantry. This project provided groceries recovered from various sources and distributed them to families and individuals in need. Smokey’s Pantry, the University of Tennessee’s first official food pantry, does much more than provide food for those in need; it diverts unwanted food that would otherwise produce methane gas in a landfill, and instead uses it to do good in the world. Smokey’s Pantry, therefore, is a project in both social and environmental sustainability.


Knoxville is a food desert, with 23.1% of the population living below the poverty level and median household income of $33,595 compared to the United States median of $53,046 and $44,298 in Tennessee. Such a level of poverty has dire consequences on hunger rates, as more and more people cannot afford sufficient food. Feeding America found in a 2014 report that one in 10 hungry adults seeking emergency food assistance is a student—two million of whom are studying full-time. In addition, Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of California San Diego have found shocking statistics in regards to the number of college students who skip meals to save money. As if this problem was not severe enough, there is also a common misconception that most individuals on college campuses are “traditional,” thus the majority of initiatives are inherently designed to benefit traditional students. However, 73% of students can be viewed as non-traditional, meaning they possess one or more of the following characteristics: having dependents, being a single parent, working full time, being financially independent, attending part time, entry to college delayed by at least one year following high school, and not having a high school diploma. A food pantry is crucial in serving people who, for example, are attending school full time but still have families to support.

As of 2012, there are 121 food pantries on college campuses across the country With rising costs of tuition, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to afford food, particularly a well-balanced, healthy diet. It is time for the University of Tennessee to address this need by establishing a campus food pantry that will also serve as an education center on sustainable food and eco-friendly living habits.

Student Environmental Initiatives Committee (SEIC) Objectives - One SEIC objective is to “create demonstration and awareness projects that highlight sustainability strategies throughout the campus community.” The food pantry will do so by drawing attention to the fact that our fellow student don’t always have sufficient, healthy, culturally appropriate food to eat. In the initial stages, the pantry will be more geared toward awareness than demonstration, but perhaps as it evolves we can host classes, workshops, etc. Once established, the possibilities are endless.


The food pantry serves to educate the campus on food sustainability-related issues. We aim for this to be a welcoming place that fulfills people’s physical needs, but also intellectual ones. Once a student or community member no longer has to worry about struggling to put food on the table, they can have the luxury to consider making more environmentally friendly life choices, and perhaps even give back to the community. We also provide information on gardening at home, seasonality of food, etc.

The other SEIC objective that the food pantry fulfills is to “create measurable sustainability impact and efforts.” The Office of Sustainability on campus has the capacity to measure the amount of greenhouse gas emissions offset by the food pantry’s presence on campus; every time a container of food is donated to the pantry rather than going straight to the landfill, harmful toxins are spared from our atmosphere.


The following are the steps we completed to make the project a reality:

➢ Coordinate group of interested individuals with experience with food sustainability issues ➢ Have an initial meeting with the Office of Sustainability ➢ Research similar initiatives on campuses across the country ➢ Secure a location for storage ○ UT Warehouse, with the Office of Sustainability and UT Recycling ➢ Secure a location for store front ○ Purchase shelving and transportation equipment ○ We are meeting with the Office of Sustainability and campus administrators (Jeff Maples, Dean Davis, etc.) to accomplish this step. We have also reached out to the Student Government Association executives. ➢ Determine hours and dates of operation ➢ Work with creative communications to design a graphic identity ○ As previously noted, this will be funded through the Office of Sustainability. ➢ Design and publish marketing materials ➢ Design and print banner to display on storefront ○ We prefer this option to a permanent sign. ➢ Meet with Risk Management Office ➢ Create client intake form ○ We will use the intake forms of other universities’ pantries as an example. ➢ Purchase reusable bags These bags will be the means by which clients receive their food on the first visit, the idea being they keep bringing the bag back for future food they need.


The food pantry will be an ongoing project, with bi-weekly hours of operation in the initial phase. The majority of work necessary for this project required up front in the planning, preparation, and establishment phases. All this took four months to complete. We continue to oversee and evaluate throughout each academic year in the following ways: ➢ Get volunteer sign-ups from the Environment & Sustainability Committee ➢ Train volunteers ➢ Collect food donations ○ Plan food drives ➢ Gain support from community organizations and entities with similar missions ➢ Continually evaluate the performance of the food pantry ➢ Work with Office of Sustainability to calculate avoided emissions


The total amount we are requesting is: $965.00. The budget breakdown is as follows:

Item Cost Food $600 Reusable bags $45 Creative communications Provided by Office of Sustainability Table and chairs In-house with Facilities Services Paper for client intake $20 Plastic storage containers $100 Transportable shelving* $200 TOTAL $965

*We do intend to rely almost completely on donated food, however, we feel it would be responsible to have a start-up/emergency fund to purchase food in the case of extreme events, additional outreach, or an unpredicted growth in demand at the food pantry.

**The need for transportable shelving depends on the location we secure for the administration of food.


So far, the project has fed 648 families and 1072 individuals. It has recruited volunteers from all parts of campus: the Chancellor’s Honors Program, Multicultural Mentoring Program, Student Government Association, and beyond. It has created space for students, staff, administration, and community members to talk openly about food insecurity—the first step to vanquishing the stigma around not having enough to eat.

Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson learned is that no project is too small. People are in serious need of food around the country. This is a hidden issue of which most people are not aware, which makes it all the more necessary for projects like ours to be developed. We also learned that a lot of food that people need is thrown away and wasted every day. That also means that there is a lot of food available for projects like ours to become a reality.



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