Panther Pantry recognized with student leadership award

Panther Pantry recognized with student leadership award

Student shopping at the Panther Pantry

The success of the Panther Pantry has earned the Presidents’ Student Leadership Award from the Iowa & Minnesota Campus Compact, an honor reserved for a student or student organization that models a deep commitment to civic responsibility and leadership. Last semester alone, students made nearly 2,000 visits to the Panther Pantry for food and basic necessities.

“It's just nice to know that people on campus recognize the job that we’re doing,” said Connie Hansen, associate director of student involvement who is also the Panther Pantry’s advisor. “We don't do it to get recognition. We do it because it's the right thing to do. But it is always nice when someone recognizes you.”

Although the pantry is not intended to be a fully stocked grocery store, it supplies items that can fill the gaps of what students may need. In addition to food like canned goods, pasta, cereal and soup, the Panther Pantry also offers basic necessities like toothpaste, shampoo, condoms and cleaning supplies. Hansen said the pantry even offers dishes, pots, pans and utensils for students that may need these items.

The pantry takes donations from students, staff and community members to keep its shelves stocked. Student organizations regularly ask for donations for admission to their events.

Mari Fox, a communication sciences and disorders major, is one of two student assistants who keep the pantry running.

“I think it's just a great resource for many individuals,” she said. “In order to be a good student, you need to have your needs met. If they aren’t, your academics might fall, so it's important that we're there for students who need it.”

Fox thinks the pantry is a great way for students to get involved and help their peers.

“It has a really good purpose, and it’s a good way to give back to students,” she said. “When you’re in college, it’s kind of hard to do that sometimes. But we're able to serve students and meet their needs.”

Shelves stocked with cereal at the Panther Pantry

Panther Pantry has been going strong since January 2019 when several groups across campus recognized the need among food insecure students and banded together to get it up and running. 

While the pantry is housed on campus in the basement of Maucker Union, it’s truly a community-wide effort. The Northeast Iowa Food Bank supplies food safety resources and sells food to the pantry at a discounted rate. The Northeast Iowa Food Bank has also been instrumental in getting the pantry linked with local businesses to donate items.  The pantry even partners with local farmers markets for fresh produce.

On campus, Panther Pantry works closely with the UNI Foundation Student Care, the Counseling Center and Student Wellness Services. 

“We work closely with all those areas because food might not be just the student’s only concern,” Hansen explained. “It might be one small facet of the overall picture. We definitely do try to build relationships with our customers. We ask, ‘Is there anything else that we can be doing to support you?’ so that we can get them connected to the resources that they need.”

Connie Hansen, Josh Farris, and Julianne Gassman with President's Student Leadership Awardman

Student adding can of soup to her Panther Pantry shopping bag

As a resident assistant, Tienna Trettin, a family services and psychology major who volunteers at the pantry, has seen the need for the pantry firsthand among her residents.

“I've definitely seen the difficulty of trying to navigate college finances and also basic necessities,” she said. “Food insecurity does cause a lot of issues like stress, and it can cause students to struggle with their academics. I think the Panther Pantry has significantly helped a lot of my residents not have that burden or those financial stressors anymore, and that has made their college experiences more enjoyable.” 

Whether students live on or off campus, Hansen believes it’s crucial that UNI have its own pantry.

“I don’t want us to make the assumption that students have transportation to go to the food bank or other pantries out in the community,” she said. “Students may not be available during the times those centers are open. We at least know a large percentage of our students are attending classes on campus, so they can pop in there before they go home or before they go to class or right after class.”

“Even when you think there might not be the resources, there are so many people who are willing to help connect you with those resources,” said Trettin. “You just have to look out and seek those things. And I think the Panther pantry does a great job of helping each of its students.”

The Panther Pantry has a donation bin outside the Event Services Office in the Union. Those wishing to donate can also send an email to