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Pace University's mobile food pantry displays a variety of free food items, including plastic-wrapped cuts of meat.

Pace University’s mobile food pantry allows students and community members to shop for fresh items like meat and vegetables for a short period of time.

Xianwen Xi Piombino

Getting students connected to resources remains a challenge for higher education practitioners, particularly those working to identify students with basic needs insecurity. One college found a solution in making the food pantry mobile.

Launched in 2018, the Pace Mobile Market supports basic needs insecurity at Pace University in New York City by offering food and household items to students, faculty and staff members at no cost. The mobile market is supported by housing and residence life and Feeding Westchester, a local member of the nonprofit food bank network Feeding America.

What’s the need: Pace didn’t have a permanent food pantry on campus until 2021, so the mobile pantry initially offered a way to provide campus members with free and fresh food items, explains Xianwen Xi Piombino, assistant director of residential life.

Today, the pop-up shop model allows shoppers to receive the freshest items and lets organizers display frozen items for a limited time, which can be challenging in the permanent space due to space constraints.

How it works: Once or twice a month, the Mobile Market rolls out on campus to a predetermined location and is open to community members for a few hours. Feeding Westchester provides the food, unloading several pallets of various items, which community members can then select from.

Piombino serves as the liaison between the university and Feeding Westchester and oversees the pantry space and item delivery, with the help of student and staff volunteers.

The mobile pantry is made up of a collection of tables, with food items sorted into categories and displayed accordingly. Community members sign in at one table prior to shopping, and Piombino and the volunteers restock items as needed throughout the two hours. Around 100 people will stop by and shop at the Mobile Market each month, compared to five to 10 visitors at the permanent pantry, Piombino says.

After the Mobile Market’s time is up, shelf-stable items are transported to Pace’s permanent food pantry, located in a residence hall, where other community members can drop by and shop during business hours. Other perishable items are donated to a local animal sanctuary or composted.

The impact: Since fall 2022, 1,132 households have visited the mobile pantry, and 775 households visited the pantry between January and April 2023.

In surveys, students have shared that they appreciate having the free resource on campus to supplement on-campus dining.

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