Two people high-five at the grand opening of the UM Food Pantry.
Community Impact Story

Feeding the mind and the body

University students open a campus food pantry to debunk the myth that being broke and hungry is a normal rite of passage while attending school.

With the support of Clearwater, Blackfoot, Missoula Chamber of Commerce, Cedar Mountain Software, and the University Center, the University of Montana joined a growing national movement looking to combat food insecurity among its students by opening the UM Food Pantry on February 12, 2019.

From Idea to Reality

Though there has been a great deal of interest in creating a food pantry program for several years, the project gained momentum in July of 2018 with the formation of the UM Committee on Food and Housing Insecurity. Working in partnership with the Missoula Food Bank and the Montana Food Bank Network, pantry organizers worked to collect data, gather donations, find community sponsors, and acquire dedicated space to house the pantry program.

Photo of the crowd and members of the press at the grand opening of the UM Food Pantry.


To collect data specific to the University of Montana, organizers of the campus pantry participated in the #RealCollege Student Basic Needs Survey in the fall of 2018. #RealCollege is a nationwide survey designed to reveal the daily experiences of college students and how they meet their basic needs.

While organizers of the UM Food Pantry are still working on getting official numbers from this year’s survey, they estimate that as many as 1 in 3 UM students do not have enough to eat.

Shelves stocked with cans of food.

Identifying Campus Need

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Those affected by food insecurity experience a reduced quality, variety, and desirability of food, disruption of eating patterns, and reduced food intake because of lack of money or other resources for food.

For many college students, this means not knowing what one’s next meal will be, where it will come from, or how much food one will have the next day, week, or month. The stress of food insecurity not only disrupts a student’s pattern of learning, but it can be an underlying cause for other struggles such as increased anxiety, deficits in social confidence, and overall physical and mental well being. Pantry supervisors say many students put most of their money toward paying the rising costs of attending college and rent which means they often don’t have enough left over to buy food.

Throughout the United States, universities are creating services to support students faced with food insecurity; these services are typically in the form of campus food pantries much like the one at UM. At the UM Food Pantry, students can pick-up free food, hygiene products, and school supplies at a more convenient location.

This isn’t normal. College students absolutely should not be living off of ramen. As funny as those jokes are…you shouldn’t be making a joke out of trauma. Struggling day to day to figure out where your next meal is coming from can be incredibly traumatic.

— Kat Cowley
Photos of the UM Food Pantry Coordinator, Kat Cowley standing next to shelves of food.
UM Pantry Student Coordinator, Kat Cowley stands in the new UM Food Pantry located in the University Center.

How you can help

The UM Food Pantry accepts nonperishable food donations, as well as toiletries, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, and household cleaning supplies. Monetary donations can be submitted anytime online and are used to help fund pantry operations and to purchase undersupplied food and products.

To make a donation or get involved, call the UM Food Pantry at 406-243-5125 or email [email protected].

Group of people at the grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony of the UM Food Pantry.

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