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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Vowing that hunger should never be a barrier to education, University of Florida officials dedicated the campus’ newest enterprise addressing hunger within the UF community, the Field and Fork Pantry, with a ceremony Sept. 1 that was light-hearted and celebratory yet charged with a sense of urgency and purpose.
“It doesn’t get any better than this, this is a special morning,” President Kent Fuchs said as he addressed the audience of about 150 gathered under a large tent next to the food pantry, located by the Food Science and Human Nutrition building on the central UF campus. “With (the organizers’ shared desire to help the needy) and with your remarkable spirit of optimism and action, I feel that there’s no limit to what we can create together for our campus, our community, our country and, indeed, actually, for the planet.”
The 40-minute event occurred almost four months to the day after the facility’s groundbreaking May 5, and followed a year-long effort by several campus units to establish a campuswide food pantry for students and employees, Fuchs said.
The president credited the project’s success to enthusiastic cooperation among participants that included the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Dean of Students Office, the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, UF Student Government, the College of Engineering, the Office for Student Financial Affairs, Gator Dining Services and Aramark, the UF International Center, members of the University-Wide Pantry Planning Committee, and members of the food pantry’s parent organization, the Field and Fork Campus Food Program. The Bread of the Mighty Food Bank was a significant community partner as well, Fuchs noted.
Next to speak was Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and the top administrator for UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or UF/IFAS, which provides programmatic and financial support for the project. Payne related how he’d become aware two years ago that food pantries had been established at other universities, and was spurred to request an exploratory survey on hunger at UF. Researchers found that of 1,800 students responding, 10 percent said they had gone hungry at least once during the previous academic year.
Moved by this revelation, Payne began considering how UF/IFAS could help; he then contacted several key campus units and learned that similar plans were being contemplated or developed by other top administrators. Recognizing their common purpose, everyone agreed to collaborate.
Before concluding his remarks, Payne provided a pleasant surprise, an informal announcement that Alan and Cathy Hitchcock, former owners of the Hitchcock’s supermarket chain, had pledged a leadership gift to help support the $290,000 second phase of construction for the food pantry. The food pantry currently occupies a 900-square-foot building that cost $172,000 to renovate and prepare for use; adjacent space for build-out is available. The Hitchcocks will also provide organizers with valuable advice on supermarket design, to help with expansions.