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UC’s Bearcats Pantry moves to Stratford Heights, adds professional closet

The University of Cincinnati’s student food pantry reopens in a new home with additional services

Research shows that 20-22 percent of college students suffer from some form of food insecurity. The University of Cincinnati’s Division of Student Affairs, working with several campus units and student organizations, looks to combat this issue and assure academic and personal success for its students with the newly expanded Bearcats Pantry.

Young man looks at food on the shelf of a food pantry

The Bearcats Pantry is stocked with nutritious food and other items for students in need. Photo/Joseph Fuqua, II/UC Creative Services

Two years after its founding, the pantry — which provides free food, hygiene and cleaning products and other essentials to students in need — has moved to a larger space with new offerings.

University and student leadership gathered near campus in Stratford Heights Wednesday for a grand re-opening and ribbon cutting for the new pantry, located on the lowest level of Stratford building 16. In addition to food, academic supplies and personal items, the Bearcats Pantry now includes a “Career Closet” with free professional clothing for interviews, presentations and other job opportunities.

Woman speaks at a podium

UC Vice President, Division of Student Affairs Debra Merchant speaks at the pantry reopening. Photo/Joseph Fuqua, II/UC Creative Services

The program included Daniel S. Cummins, assistant dean of students, Division of Student Affairs; Debra Merchant, vice president, Division of Student Affairs; Juan Guardia, assistant vice president/dean of students, Division of Student Affairs; Sinna Habteselassie and Umaize Savani, undergraduate student body president and vice president; Jelena Vicic, graduate student body president; and UC First Lady Jennifer Pinto.

“Next Lives Here,” says Vice President Merchant, invoking UC's strategic direction, “and we want to ensure that the ‘next’ is well prepared to step into the future.”

The Bearcats Pantry is a passion project for Pinto, who looks to continue the tradition of service to the university pursued by the spouses of UC’s previous presidents. 

Woman stands amid racks of clothing

The pantry is a passion project for Jennifer Pinto, pictured in the Career Closet. Photo/Joseph Fuqua, II/UC Creative Services

“When I learned about the Bearcats Pantry, I immediately knew it was something I wanted to support," she says. "National studies are showing the need is much greater than one might imagine.”

The new location features two rooms of shelves stocked with food, one with personal items, another with clothing racks and changing rooms to ensure students find the perfect fit. It is outfitted with items donated by the UC community. The pantry also offers dining hall vouchers and to-go bags at various locations throughout UC's campuses. Students can drop in during hours of operation or make an appointment to visit the pantry.

“We are surviving off the generosity of members of the Bearcat community who provide support in populating the food pantry and the professional clothing closet,” Cummins says.

Man speaks at a podium

Assistant Dean of Students Daniel Cummins speaks at the pantry reopening. Photo/Joseph Fuqua, II/UC Creative Services

The pantry also boasts a focus on healthy, nutritious foods and specialty items in line with religious and dietary needs. Students can make personal requests if they can’t find what they need at the pantry, and volunteers will go out and purchase those specific items.

“We follow up with every student who uses the pantry to learn more about their story and to explore ways to meet their needs,” Cummins says. “We are providing students with the support to eradicate their insecurity rather than just let students feel as if they are in this by themselves.”

“Bearcats take care of Bearcats,” he says.

News media coverage of Bearcat Pantry reopening

Get involved

Contact Assistant Dean of Students Daniel Cummins at 513-556-5064 or email to make a monetary donation, arrange item drop-off or volunteer at the pantry.

Ideal donations are single-serving sized canned goods including stews, chili, canned meat and fruit, nuts, beans, peanut butter, cereals, seasonings, pasta, rice, culturally sensitive foods, paper towels, laundry supplies, shampoo, conditioner, tissues and gently used men's and women's professional clothing (suits, blouses, ties, blazers, slacks, skirts).

Featured image at top: Debra Merchant, Jennifer Pinto, Daniel Cummins, Juan Guardia, Umaize Savani and Jelena Vicic cut the ribbon for the Bearcats Pantry. Photo/Joseph Fuqua, II/UC Creative Services