UCF food pantry expands as more students seek necessities

UCF Knights Helping Knights Pantry makes necessities free, accessible to UCF students

Cans of vegetables displayed on the shelf at the Knights Helping Knights Pantry. (University of Central Florida)

ORLANDO, Fla. – When the Knights Helping Knights Pantry began in a closet in 2009, no one expected the class project to grow the way it did.

In partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank, the University of Central Florida’s food pantry stocks necessities for students in need. Jeannie Kiriwas, the associate director of the Student Union Event Services, oversees the student leadership team for the UCF Knights Helping Knights Pantry.

“I really believe in the mission of what happens there, and the students that run it are incredible,” Kiriwas said.

UCF student Sarah Maton had the idea for the pantry and worked to develop it with her peers in a first-year LEAD Scholars course. Fourteen years later, the pantry has expanded far beyond the closet it started in.

“The associate director of the Student Union at the time said, ‘Well, I’ve got a closet in the Student Union. I’ll give it to you and see what happens.’ After that it just grew and grew and grew,” Kiriwas explained.

Today, the pantry has 70-90 volunteers at any given time and has seen plenty of students coming in for all types of goods: food, toiletries, clothing, and sealed over-the-counter medications. Kiriwas noticed that produce flies off the shelves quicker than other products.

“The whole point is we want our community members to be healthy, which is not just food, but nutritious food,” Kiriwas said. “Our students love produce and go through it.”

The pantry has moved to a larger location in order to ensure that everyone who needed access to free products would have access. In the near future, it will move to an even larger location.

“It became so well used that we had to identify a different place for it on campus,” Kiriwas said. “We’re going to be moving soon again, and we’re looking forward to identifying the new space to be able to continue to expand our services.”

Students tend to flood into the pantry after hurricanes, according to Kiriwas. The past fall semester, which saw Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole, was the busiest it’s been.

“The need we saw was very severe,” she said. “We had to change the way we were distributing food in order to give out more food.”

UCF student Jenna Gould volunteers at the pantry in the morning and sees that breakfast items are popular during her shift.

“It is pretty busy during my opening shift,” Gould said. “When I am working the checkout counter, I usually have a line of three or four people.”

The pantry also provides UCF women with menstrual hygiene products, a great comfort to women who spend an average of $20 per menstrual cycle, according to the Rhode Island Medical Journal.

“One time, a pantry client asked what the limit on feminine hygiene products was, and when I told her it was unlimited, she sighed in relief,” Gould said. “It made me proud to be volunteering at an organization that makes such a difference helping women.”

The UCF Knights Helping Knights Pantry is full of volunteers but can always use more donations. Click here to donate.

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About the Author:

Brianna Ellis joined News 6 in September.