Holiday food drive helps keep shelves full at UCF pantry

UCF alum gives back to pantry he once relied on

It’s a common stereotype, college students living on ramen and leftover pizza. But the truth is that studies show between 20-40% of college students are food insecure.

ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s a common stereotype, college students living on ramen and leftover pizza. But the truth is that studies show between 20-40% of college students are food insecure.

That means these students aren’t getting a sufficient amount of quality, nutritious food. To help, University of Central Florida students set up a pantry on campus.

[TRENDING: JAWS: Large alligator soaks up sun, surf on Florida beach | WILD VIDEO: Pursuit on Beachline ends in Orange County arrest | Become a News 6 Insider]

This week’s Getting Results Award winner is making sure it stays stocked for the holidays.

The Knights Helping Knights Pantry is tucked away in a corner of Ferrell Commons on the campus of UCF. Inside you can find everything from fresh bread to canned vegetables, clothing, shoes and toiletries. It’s all free to students and staff.

Jeannie Kiriwas, associate director of the Student Union, said the pantry started as a student-led initiative in 2009.

“There were students who felt like their peers were hungry,” Kiriwas explained. “And so it started as a small closet in the student union and grew and grew.”

Today, the pantry serves between 200 and 250 students a day.

“We want to help fill those gaps,” Kiriwas said. “Because you might have some food but if you don’t have enough, it could be the difference between a ‘C’ in organic chemistry and an ‘A’ in organic chemistry. That matters because with a ‘C,’ you might lose your scholarship.”

Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below:

Kiriwas walked through the pantry’s stock room pointing out shelves full of rice, pasta, peanut butter and canned goods.

“It takes a lot to keep our shelves full,” Kiriwas explained. “But the community around the Knights Helping Knights Pantry constantly rises up anytime we say we’re short or we need support.”

Nick Nastase also got to campus in 2009. He relied on the pantry as a freshman. “When I found out the pantry was available, you know we didn’t use it every day but we used it when we needed it. It made a big difference for us.”

Now a professional, he’s giving back by organizing an annual fundraiser to help fund the pantry and keep the shelves stocked.

The second annual Fall Festival Food Drive was held at the Celeste Hotel on Sunday, Oct. 16.

“It’s hard to ask for help, but you should never feel that way. I did it and now I’m here today able to put on this event, able to keep the program going to help future students.”

The fundraiser took place on the hotel’s event lawn. Music filled the air and guests gathered under the shade of palm trees. Nearby a pair of folding tables were stacked high with donated food. Tables were decorated with pumpkins and sunflowers and hay bales to complete the fall theme.

“Usually the donations stop around this time of year,” Nastase said. “People don’t realize that there are students that do stay here during the holidays. Others worry about how to pay for a flight or drive home. So we like to keep the pantry filled during those times.”

The Fall Festival Food Drive 2022 raised more than $7,500 and 400 pounds of food.

“Nick is doing an amazing job for us,” Kiriwas said. “Fundraisers like his are wonderful in two ways, because he’s encouraging people to bring physical goods as well as financial donations. And we really need both sides of the operation to keep running.”

If you would like to support the Knights Helping Knights Pantry, more information can be found at:

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.