Carlow University Addresses Food Scarcity for Students with Carlow Closet

The Carlow Closet has expanded from gently used clothing to include non-perishable food items to address food scarcity among students.

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Drew Wilson, Director, Media Relations November 05, 2018
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Founded for Gently Used Clothing, Carlow Closet now also Provides Non-Perishables

Pittsburgh, Pa. – Carlow University has expanded its closet – The Carlow Closet – to include non-perishable food items to address food scarcity among college students.

“The issue of food scarcity and hunger among U.S. families has been measured in studies about poverty since the 1990s,” said Janice McCall, PhD, a social work professor at Carlow.  “It is becoming more prominent among college students now because of recent studies like the one done by Sara Goldrick-Rab at the Wisconsin Hope Lab, and subsequent media coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post and NPR.”

McCall, who is beginning her second year on the faculty at Carlow, learned that the Carlow Closet was created to collect gently-used clothing at the end of each semester that students no longer needed or wanted. While the Closet still has that function, McCall thought its purpose could be expanded to also help provide food to students in need.

“As I read the reports, it became very clear to me that the vulnerable groups that were mentioned as having food insecurity did not just exist on some far-away campus, but were very much on our own campus,” she said.  “As an institution founded by the Sisters of Mercy, we needed to address this.”

With a mini-grant for $500 from a regional Collegiate Basic Needs Dialogue hosed by the University of Pittsburgh, McCall organized a group of advisors from Carlow staff, faculty, and students to assist in managing and coordinating issues related to the Closet.

“We did a soft open in March 2018 and got the word out through our learning management system and word of mouth.  In those first two weeks, we had this huge surge of students who were just curious as to what this resource was,” said McCall.  “I would say now we have a fairly consistent number of students who are returning users.”

McCall estimates food insecurity on the Carlow campus to fall in line with national averages, which range from 20 to 30 percent, although some national studies have estimated food insecurity to affect as much as 70 percent of college students.

“It’s a lot more students than we think. Many people in society are one paycheck away from a catastrophic life event, and college students are no different,” she said.  “Since hospitality is one of our core Mercy values, the Closet will welcome and serve those basic human needs, regardless of who the student is.”

More important to McCall is maintaining a welcoming atmosphere on campus where students who need help are not afraid to seek it.

“I try to adhere to the theme of hospitality,” she said.  “It is really about welcoming a student and making sure they feel welcome on campus.  Not being able to afford food shouldn’t be the reason a student doesn’t feel connected to campus.  The Closet can help maintain a level of dignity so we can actively do things for our students.”


About Carlow University

Carlow is a private, co-educational, Catholic university located in the heart of Pittsburgh’s “Eds, Meds, and Tech” district. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy, Carlow’s graduates, curricula, and partnerships reflect its strong commitment to social justice; ethical, forward-thinking and responsible leadership; and service to the community that has a meaningful impact. Undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered in four colleges: Health and Wellness, Leadership and Social Change, Learning and Innovation, and Professional Studies. Carlow graduates are in demand for their professional expertise, in fields ranging from nursing, the sciences, and perfusion technology to counseling, education, and forensic accounting; their entrepreneurial spirit and creative mindset; and their ability to manage change.  Carlow’s 13 athletic teams are known as the Celtics, a reflection of the university’s Irish heritage and roots.

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