OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Food Bank provides a discreet and much-needed source for food, hygiene products and more for Ole Miss students and employees each week.
Supported primarily through donations, the UM Food Bank provides hundreds of meals each semester. Since the fall semester began in August, the Food Bank, housed in Kinard Hall, Room 213, has provided an estimated 1,266 meals to community members.
Working behind-the-scenes at the Food Bank are Kate Reinhardt, a senior secondary mathematics education major, and Holten Moreno, a senior business administration major. Together, they serve as the Food Bank’s co-directors.
“As an education major, I know how important it is that students have access to food,” said Reinhardt, a St. Louis native. “Students shouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from, and I just want to make sure that we can help get rid of that extra stress for them.”
Reinhardt began working with the Food Bank in 2018 as a member of the fundraising committee. Through her work as fundraising chair, she quickly realized how big an impact the Food Bank has on fighting student food insecurity.
The work lit a new passion in Reinhardt. After her first year, she decided to apply to be co-director in 2019. She began her new role earlier this year and has remained committed to helping fight student food insecurity at Ole Miss.
“I realized that I loved helping as fundraising chair so much and that helping the Food Bank was something that I really wanted to get more involved with,” Reinhardt said.
Moreno began working with the Food Bank in 2017 as a member of the volunteer and training committee. Before coming to UM, she was involved with a food bank in her hometown of Washington, D.C., and wanted to continue to work against food insecurity in Oxford.
“I think a food bank is particularly important on college campuses due to the rising expenses at this time of many students’ lives,” Moreno said. “Unfortunately, most of the time, money is pulled from their food budget, which is where we come in, and oftentimes students will try to go days without eating due to not being able to afford meals.
“We give them the opportunity to find their footing again financially by using the Food Bank to cut out cost from their budget.”
As co-directors, Reinhardt and Moreno work together to coordinate and plan with the student committee that oversees the resource’s operations. This semester alone, student volunteers have dedicated more than 205 hours to its operation, not counting the time committed by the student leadership team or group-based volunteering activities.
“Holten and Kate do an excellent job running the Food Bank,” said Lindsey Abernathy, associate director of the Office of Sustainability and staff adviser of the Food Bank. “The student directors are in charge of all operations, which is no small task, especially when also taking classes.”
The UM Food Bank is a registered student organization with the goal of ending campus hunger by providing food and hygiene products to students and employees. Its services are free to all students who might need it, regardless of financial situations.
“I think that sometimes students are unsure whether or not they qualify for our services, and we’re trying to focus on promoting the Food Bank as a place where all students can go, regardless of their financial situation,” Reinhardt said. “We focus on being discreet and not asking for any personal information regarding student ID number, name or financial information.”
Reinhardt and Moreno’s passion for serving the community in this capacity has only grown since they began working with the organization. Together, they lean on each other to make sure the Food Bank can provide for students and staff, and work to improve it any way they can.
“In addition to the daily operations of the Food Bank, the students are always looking toward the future and what else the Food Bank can offer,” Abernathy said. “Just this semester, Kate and Holten have worked with Ole Miss Dining Services to pilot a meal swipe donation program.”
Pioneered by Reinhardt and Moreno, this new initiative resulted in 200 meal swipes being donated to the Food Bank. Combined with a 100 percent match by Ole Miss Dining, the Food Bank was able to distribute more than 400 meal swipes to students who needed them in November.
Reinhardt is student-teaching in a geometry class at Pontotoc High School this semester. She will graduate in May with plans to either begin her teaching career or pursue a master’s degree.
Moreno also is set to graduate in May and plans to attend graduate school in England to obtain an MBA.
Reinhardt’s passion for helping those around her and Moreno’s commitment to fighting food insecurity make them a perfect fit as co-directors of the Food Bank.
“We’ve always wanted to help students,” Reinhardt said. “They’re here to learn, and they shouldn’t have to worry about finding food or where their next meal will come from.”
By Meaghan Flores