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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The ceremonial green ribbon was cut and the UF Field and Fork Pantry served the Gator Good.

Fans whirred underneath a white tent, where about 75 faculty, students and community members crowded to show support for the pantry, which provides food to hungry Gators.

The pantry has been open since summer, but on Tuesday, McCarty’s yard was flooded with people celebrating its efforts to combat food insecurity.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” UF President Kent Fuchs said.

Six minutes after the event started, people who worked at the pantry switched out two recycling-bin-sized donation containers.  The bins were filled throughout the event.

“It’s all part of Feeding America,” said Rose Curcio, the director of marketing and communications for Bread of the Mighty Food Bank. “Marcia, the CEO (of Bread of the Mighty) has been discussing the need for this on UF for over 10 years.”

At UF, 10 percent of students report food insecurity, said Dave Kratzer, vice president for student affairs.

Since the opening of the pantry, it has served 140 campus-community members 1,862 pounds of food, said Anna Prizzia, co-chair of the university-wide pantry-planning committee.

 The story of UF’s new pantry started with Marcia Conwell, CEO and president of Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, a partner of UF’s Field and Fork Pantry.

“It took five years to make this happen,” Conwell said. “That’s why we’re very proud to be part of this day.”

She told the story of her daughter, a UF alumna, who used to carry food from Bread of the Mighty to campus to help feed hungry students.

Charlie Lane, UF senior vice president and chief operation officer, said the pantry will expand from 900 square feet to 1,000 square feet, a project that is now in the works.

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The original $172,000 building stores toiletries and canned goods, like toothpaste and beans. In an effort to integrate sustainable practices, Lane said the expanded pantry will have fresh foods and will cost $290,000.

“I think it’s money very well spent,” he said.

The pantry also recently received an indirect $25,000 donation from the controversial GMO-seed company Monsanto.

The donation was originally awarded to UF horticulture professor Kevin Folta for his self-sufficient outreach program, Talking Biotech. With this program, he teaches scientists how to talk to the public, promoting science literacy.

Folta said he spent between $9,000 and $11,000 of the donation on his workshops to cover travel expenses, conference food, room rentals and sometimes hotel stays.

Anti-GMO activists didn’t approve of his acceptance of the donation, Folta said.

“I received all kinds of threats,” he said. Folta had the option of transferring the money to a scholarship or research, but he chose the food pantry.  

“It’s a noble cause,” he said. “I support it 100 percent.” 

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