Retriever Essentials aims to help students in need
Meals can be donated in the beginning of the semester. Donations to the food pantry are accepted at any time of the year. Photo by Kelley Bennett.

Retriever Essentials aims to help students in need

Many UMBC students struggle to use all of their meals before the end of the week or the semester. But some UMBC students face a different issue, and Retriever Essentials is pioneering a campus initiative to combat that problem.

Save a Swipe is a new program from Retriever Essentials and Chartwells that allows students who bought meal plans to donate up to one meal a week to a pool that is redistributed to students in need, as determined by Counseling Services, that can be used at True Grits. Weekly meal plans will have one meal subtracted from them each week, while students with blocks of 225 meals will see 16 subtracted one time. Students on the unlimited meal plan can donate their Friday meal. Meals can be donated through Feb. 9.

Retriever Essentials, which also runs a food pantry on campus, had been workshopping ways to provide food to insecure students without the means to get meals on campus.

“Within Chartwells […] I reached out and started looking to see what other universities were doing,” says Tom DeLuca, the director of Dining Services for Chartwells at UMBC and one of the members of the Retriever Essentials team. “I found a program at Bowling Green State University and got in touch with the director out there who said they had a program where students could donate meals to a central bank and then those can be distributed to students in need. We then modeled it into something that can be used here at UMBC.”

The program, though still in its pilot stage, will be implemented in future semesters.

“Everybody on campus is so supportive, and this would not have gotten off the ground as quickly as it did without everyone’s support,” adds Julie Rosenthal, the program manager for the Asian Studies department and Gerontology PhD program, and another member of the Retriever Essentials team.

In addition to the Save a Swipe program, Retriever Essentials also runs a food pantry on campus. “We collect food from four locations around campus, and then set up bags of non-perishables that we take to six locations on campus,” says Rosenthal. After being dropped off, students without access to food can go to the six pick-up locations to request a bag of food. The food pantry also works with students who have dietary restrictions to ensure that every individual’s needs are met.

The Save a Swipe and food pantry have done well on campus so far, and Retriever Essentials hopes that these initiatives will help reduce the stigma around student hunger and help people realize that the services are available on campus.

“Our goal is to make sure that those students we can identify as food insecure will have access to food one way or another, whether it’s through the food pantry or donated meals for True Grits or other resources in the community,” says DeLuca.

Rosenthal says the programs have brought out the best in the UMBC community: “I have seen the love, caring, kindness and generosity that is exuded from everybody. If you ask people to help, they come out. They’re delighted to help.”

Students interested in getting involved can go to https://retrieveressentials.umbc.edu/.