In fall 2014, Florida Gulf Coast University sophomore Samantha Lloyd was struggling. She was a full-time student with a part-time job living in an apartment, and bills were stacking up. When they were paid, she and her now husband had $50 in their bank account to spend on food and gas for three weeks.
“It was pretty difficult,” said Lloyd. “We relied on my mom for a couple of weeks, but she has her own life to take care of. So, we started to brainstorm and asked ourselves what resources can we use?”
Lloyd and her mom then remembered a piece of information from FGCU orientation the year before. The FGCU Campus Food Pantry was a resource Lloyd could take advantage of as a student.
Every Tuesday for the next three years, Lloyd utilized the pantry as a client but spent the majority of her time there giving back.
“I was so blown away by how amazing this resource was that I wanted to give back,” she said. “About two weeks after my first visit, I came in as a volunteer and got my 80 hours of required service-learning at the Campus Food Pantry.”
Her passion for the pantry turned into a full-time job. Lloyd has been the coordinator of the pantry since 2016. She is the smiling face you’ll see if you visit the pantry in the Music Modular building near Parking Garage 2.
“It’s a reliable and sustainable source because it is choice-based, so everything that a student takes is something they like, need and know how to prepare,” she explained.
The FGCU Campus Food Pantry has been serving students for 10 years. It was created in 2012 by Jo Anna Bradshaw, wife of former President Wilson G. Bradshaw. Bradshaw led a committee that surveyed the student body about food insecurity, and the need was apparent.
“We know students have problems with tuition costs and high costs of books, so they really have to be impacted when it comes to food,” said Bradshaw. “There was sufficient evidence [from the survey] that the pantry would be a resource that would be needed and used.”
Since its doors opened, the pantry has been visited 15,000 times. A proud partner agency of the Harry Chapin Food Bank, the pantry has been a lifeline to students, whether they visit once or once a week for multiple years.
Michele Coulter, director of operations for administrative services and finance and a founder of the pantry, wants students to see it as a safe zone. She emphasizes the process for students to acquire food is completely confidential.
“I want students to know that they can come to a judgment-free zone and be able to eat, which is a right for everyone,” said Coulter. “Everybody needs a little help now and again, and then maybe they’ll turn around and pay it forward.”
The pantry is open weekday afternoons. An emergency outdoor food pantry containing canned goods is located outside the Music Modular when the university is closed on weekends and holidays. Over the last decade, the pantry has cultivated a strong donor base, but more are always needed and welcomed. Visit the food pantry website to learn what is needed and how to donate.
Looking back over its tenure, Bradshaw is grateful and proud of Lloyd for taking good care of the pantry and its clients.
“As it is with any food pantry or food bank, the goal is to be put out of business,” said Bradshaw. “But outside of that, I hope that everybody continues to embrace it, and students continue to respect others that are in need of it, and those who are in need of it use it.”
In the meantime, Lloyd hopes the pantry can relieve pressure from students trying their best to get by, as it did for her.
“I love being here for my peers and my students, and the food pantry is also here for me,” said Lloyd. “It went from putting food on my table to putting food on my table as my job. I don’t know where I would be without the food pantry. I’m eternally grateful that I had this opportunity.”
Learn more about the FGCU Campus Food Pantry, hours of operation and donations here.
Updates can also be found on Instagram: @fgcucampusfoodpantry.