Retriever Essentials, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County organization that provides free food and other supplies to community members on campus, has been expanding its services and offerings this year to combat food insecurity at UMBC.
When The Retriever last reported on RE in April 2022, its Essential Space in the Retriever Activities Center 235 had just opened, and plans for a second location in the Retriever Learning Center (on the first floor of Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery) were underway. Now, at the beginning of the Fall 2022 semester, both spaces are fully operational and busier than ever before.
RE Program Coordinator and graduate student in UMBC’s Applied Sociology Program, Lydia Sannella, said in a September 15, 2022 interview with The Retriever that RE had already distributed more pounds of food in those first fifteen days of September 2022 than it had during the entire preceding month of August.
“We’ve been having unprecedented demand on the Essentials Space… we want to have food available for anyone who wants or needs it,” Sannella said. UMBC News reported on September 1, 2022 that, in addition to the largest ever incoming class of first-year students, the university also enrolled “record numbers of graduate and international students.”
To meet this demand, RE debuted a new event: a Free Farmers’ Market. Every Thursday at 2 pm this semester, RE will be set up with free food in front of AOK Library, and will give out the food until 3 pm or supplies run out. Like all RE distribution – including the Essential Space, the RLC mini pantry and all other “food zones” on campus – no proof of need is required; any UMBC community member can get food and other items for free.
As an event series, Free Farmers’ Market demonstrates the interorganizational nature of RE’s operations. Not only does RE partner with So What Else, a food program based in the Maryland and Washington, D.C. area, to provide the food for the markets, but also AOK Library to use the space outside the building and to help promote the markets.
In another interview with The Retriever, Sannella and AOK Reference and Instruction Librarian Jasmine Shumaker said that the partnership between RE and AOK has been going on for about a year, and began when Sannella reached out through the library’s chat service to ask about an article on food insecurity. Sannella and Shumaker began talking about RE, and Shumaker had the idea that the library could become involved in assisting UMBC students through RE.
“The way people see the library is just books or just the library coming into your class to speak, when we’re so much more than that,” Shumaker said. “I think we might be the most heavily trafficked building on campus,” and thus an ideal place to support students.
Now, Free Farmers’ Market events and the RLC mini pantry are two accessible food distribution sites for RE, and both in partnership with AOK. Sannella and Shumaker highlighted the importance of these sites being both anonymous and visible in order to work toward destigmatizing food insecurity at UMBC.
Shumaker stated that no one should be “ashamed of” community food spaces and noted that the RLC mini pantry is purposely integrated into the room. “We didn’t put the mini pantry in a desolate corner, or behind a vending machine or in a separate room. We wanted to see this as a very normalized thing,” Shumaker said.
Sannella said that RE is continuing to plan further distribution projects as UMBC’s food needs change and grow. She also stated that another RE goal is to help reduce campus food waste. The next RE project will be in partnership with UMBC dining hall True Grits, and will recruit volunteers to go to True Grits after lunchtime, package up leftover meals and store them in the Essential Space refrigerator for community members to pick up and take. In the future, Sannella said, she hopes RE will work with Chartwells in order to recover leftover food from catering events on campus as well.
The Retriever Essentials website has up-to-date information on distribution site hours and locations. The Campus Police food zone is open 24/7 and is stocked with pre-packed bags of non-perishable food and supplies. The website also lists ways to get involved, including volunteer opportunities and current donation needs. All non-emergency inquiries can be directed to email@example.com.