Grove Grocery provides healthy meals at no charge to campus community
A strategic partnership with Kroger helped Grove Grocery provide 9,291 free meals to those in the University of Mississippi community with food insecurity issues during the 2020-21 academic year. To ensure this crucial resource continues, Kroger has committed to maintain its support for the next five years.
Since the pandemic began, “the utilization of our services has gone way up,” said Kate Forster, director of advocacy at UMatter: Student Support and Advocacy. She’s staff adviser to Grove Grocery, the campus food pantry.
“The pandemic really shined a light on our work. More students became aware of the pantry, and more students accessed the resource, including a high number of graduate and international students who have been especially impacted by the pandemic.”
Grove Grocery provides food, hygiene and cleaning items to students, faculty and staff at no charge. There is no application process; everyone is eligible.
“We want it to be as low-barrier as possible, to reduce stigma and to encourage any university community member facing food insecurity to reach out, come visit and use our services,” Forster said.
Student volunteers run Grove Grocery, gaining experience in community service, leadership, teamwork and logistics.
Kroger’s partnership with Ole Miss began in 2019. The grocery store – one of the largest retailers in the United States – provided gift cards to Grove Grocery enabling the student volunteers to keep the shelves stocked.
The students use the cards to purchase food throughout the year. They submit orders, and Kroger employees fill them.
Kroger manager Jeff Neal oversees the order processing and ensures that the best-priced items are chosen.
“It’s been really helpful working with him, knowing that as they shop our orders, they’ve got our interests in mind,” Forster said.
Kroger’s work with Grove Grocery is part of its Kroger Zero Hunger|Zero Waste initiative. The goal is to create communities free from hunger and waste by 2025.
“Our purpose at Kroger is to feed the human spirit, said Teresa Dickerson, the retailer’s manager for corporate affairs. “By aligning this purpose with our national Zero Hunger|ZeroWaste initiative, we believe a partnership with Grove Grocery and the Oxford community will help feed those in need and allow students to focus on their studies and not worry about their next meal.”
In fall 2020, Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College senior Dandridge Parks, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, surveyed 321 Ole Miss students and found that 41.4% were food insecure, meaning they can’t afford to eat a healthy, varied diet. Food insecurity affects physical health, mental health and academic performance.
“This keeps me from starving all day,” students regularly tell Grove Grocery through feedback forms. Many are accustomed to eating one meal a day, and they say the additional meals help them focus better.
Hughes Miller, UM director of industry giving and engagement, applauded the partnership.
“Kroger has been a great industry partner that wants to support the well-being of the university community and make a wide impact,” he said. “We are grateful not only for its support but also for its active involvement in helping address food insecurity issues.”
Kroger also has provided funds to the UM Office of Veteran and Military Services to help transform the kitchen at the office’s George Street House headquarters into a satellite location for Grove Grocery.
The main Grove Grocery location is in Kinard Hall, Room 213. Hours are 10 am to 6 pm daily except Mondays and Tuesdays, when the hours are noon to 8 pm. Grab-and-go bags are available after hours.
In addition, Grove Grocery offers meal cards for use at Rebel Market and the Residential College dining facility. During the 2020-21 academic year, 1,900 meal cards were distributed.
By Leigh Ann Hubbard