The Big Orange Pantry serves the University of Tennessee community by distributing food and hygiene products for students and faculty.
Located on the first floor of Greve Hall, the pantry allows students to pick up grocery items after placing an order on their website. Students can pick up their order during their hours of operation, which will be for 13 hours over four days each week in the semester.
The pantry opened in Nov. 2020 as an initiative from the Office of the Dean of Students and the Department of Nutrition. Interim Assistant Director for Outreach and Initiatives Abigail Brumfield and pantry coordinator Evan Oliver spoke about the pantry.
“We provide emergency food assistance to any students, faculty, staff, anyone on campus at all,” Oliver said. “We have our website, so you can place an online order and come pick it up. You can come by and look at the perishable foods in the fridges back there.”
Most of the people who operate the pantry work for UTK or as part of a department. For example, they are planning on bringing in an intern from the business college to help out with supply-chain management.
“We love to have volunteers come and help us out, and usually in the semester, it gets booked up pretty quickly,” Oliver said. “People love to come over here and volunteer. So, we will probably continue to have about three or four volunteer slots per afternoon at the pantry this semester. They can sign up at … the sign-up-to-serve website.”
They receive funding from several sources, including UT and sponsors. They purchase food from Second Harvest to distribute to the community. They are currently working on a partnership with Food4All, which is an organization that focuses on providing locally sourced food.
“The Food4All program is going to be a partnership between the UT Culinary Institute, which is housed in the Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management Department within the College of (Education, Health, and Human Sciences), Big Orange Pantry, Sustainability and Vol Dining,” Brumfield said.
Brumfield added that it will be “something different than giving you black beans and rice, (they’re) able to give you soups or sandwiches.” Essentially, they will provide meals to people.
Since they opened in November, the pantry has distributed over 11,000 pounds of food. They hope to distribute this much food and more in the remainder of this year and onward. They also want to distribute food through events that encourage them to expand their output.
“I hope we can do the Schools of the SEC Food Fight again,” Brumfield said. “That was a lot of fun, and so we were able to compete in a friendly way with the other pantries in the conference. I feel like that was really powerful, and it was a big motivator for our campus.”
They want to work on the space that they currently have in Greve Hall, including the former POD Market. They want to alter the location to make it feel more like a grocery store so that students can walk around and pick out the items that they need.
As of right now, they have received a lot of support as they continue to learn by serving the UTK community.
“We were really fortunate in that we had a lot of support, and we continue to have support with either people volunteering with us or reaching out asking about how they can set up drives,” Brumfield said. “We’ve learned a little more about what our patrons want and what they’re asking for.”
They want to foster more knowledge of the pantry, inviting students to use their services. They are planning a snow cone event on Thursday, Aug. 26 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. to inform students about the pantry.
“We want to do a lot more outreach,” Oliver said. “Get out on campus, see some faces and people, reduce some stigma that way. Just be more approachable.”
“I think that’s the challenge of it; there is so much food, it’s just getting it to people and the timing of it,” Brumfield said. “So when people do say, ‘Oh I don’t want to take too much,’ and I will just say, ‘You just take what you need and you are exactly where you need to be right now. We are glad you’re here and please, please, please take this.’”
They work alongside other pantries in the area, like Smokey’s Pantry, to ensure that they have enough food that can be distributed before it goes bad. But, they want to help people in other ways than just offering food by confronting food insecurity.
“We don’t only want to give people food,” Brumfield said. “We want to help them develop the skills … to be able to do something with it. For us, it’s not just giving someone black beans, some kale … we want to help them figure out what they can do with the space that they have.”
As the semester starts, the Big Orange Pantry will transition to their regular hours of operation. People can set an order online to pick up while they’re open, as well as read more information about the pantry. Volunteers can also sign up online to help with the pantry.
They can be found on Instagram @bigorangepantry. They hope to continue to distribute food to students and faculty who need it while they continue to grow.