By Leah Boucher – Staff Reporter
UMF’s Thrifty Beaver Cooperative has recently completed changes in the location and services they offer in an effort to help hungry students and those who need new clothing for the winter.
Now located in the basement of the new Fusion Center building, students can receive any food in the food pantry for free and can participate in a clothing swap, where the number of clothes they bring in to donate is the number of clothes they can take from the store in return.
Originally developed by the UMF Sustainable Campus Coalition (SCC), Thrifty Beaver expanded in the past year from a simple thrift store on the third floor of Merrill to a thrift store and food pantry in a more central campus location near the Olsen Student Center. Luke Kellett, UMF Sustainability Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Anthropology, hopes that this change will allow students to feel more comfortable if they are in need of food or clothes.
“We intentionally combined the food pantry with the campus thrift store to reduce the stigma of accessing a food pantry,” said Kellett. “We are now one of over 400 university/college food pantries in the US, so this is a rapidly growing trend which shows that higher education is taking food insecurity and hunger seriously, an issue which has generally seen very little attention up until the last few years.”
As this semester winds down and students run out of meals on campus, this co-op hopes to provide frozen meals for students in need with a new refrigerator/freezer they received due to a grant.
“Foods like frozen burritos, pizza pockets, and so on will be available for students to eat right away or store in their own refrigerators in their rooms or off campus,” said Kellett. “Not only will the food pantry have an increase of meals for the cold season, but Thrifty Beaver also sees an increase in the amount of clothes donated right before and during the winter months.”
Danica Lamontagne, a senior double majoring in Environmental Policy and Planning and Political Science, is a Thrifty Beaver student worker who is aware of the rising issue of student hunger and need for warm clothes. “It’s sometimes hard for students to access local food pantries or clothing swaps, and they might feel ashamed visiting one of those facilities,” said Lamontagne. “Thrifty Beaver tries to normalize itself as a comfortable, local resource to be a part of; student hunger and students with lack of appropriate winter clothing is a serious issue not only on campus but in this country.”
Kelly Toomey, a junior Secondary Education and Environmental Science major and student leader of the SCC, is trying to publicize the services offered within Thrifty Beaver and increase student interest.
“At the beginning of November, we partnered with Johnson Scholars. They handed out cookies in the student center with a free coupon to Thrifty Beaver, a map of how to get there, and a chance to enter a raffle to win a Narrow Gauge Cinemas movie pass or a Hannaford gift card,” said Toomey. “We also have new signs in the front and back of the Fusion Center and maintain a website and Facebook page for those who want to know more about what we offer.”
Kellett believes that there will be more student interest and involvement, as foot traffic will increase when the Fusion Center is finally completed. However, he knows time is needed for any type of major increase in the number of student visitors.
“I have talked to other universities who have food pantries, thrift stores, or similar co-ops such as Thrifty Beaver. They have all informed me that it takes time for new services to be accessed,” he said. “That means we need to be patient yet engaged in keeping the co-op visible and active on campus.”
The Thrifty Beaver Co-op is located in room 004 in the basement of the Fusion Center and is open Sunday, Monday, and Thursday from 3-8.