Hungry to learn

New food pantry for students is just one way UND is stepping up to combat food insecurity on campus

Krisit Okerlund and Orlynn Rosaasen

UND Assistant Director of Student Involvement & Parent Programs Kristi Orkerlund (left) and Director of Dining Services Orlynn Rosassen show off goods donated to the new Food for Thought Pantry on the third floor of the Memorial Union. Rosaasen holds dining services card that students can now use to donate “bonus meals” or cash to other students in need. Okerlund and Rosaasen are part of a team that’s addressing food insecurity among UND students head on. Photo by Jackie Lorentz photo/UND Today.

The signs are there if you know what to look for.

Cara Halgren, a former UND dean of students and current vice president for student affairs and diversity, knows them well. She’s become adept at spotting students who are navigating the system in search of a next meal. On fixed budgets, sometimes students’ board plans aren’t enough or they don’t have a plan at all.

The headlines are everywhere these days: food insecurity is alive and well on college campuses across the nation. UND isn’t immune.

“Students tell us about it and we see it,” Halgren said. “Your heart breaks when you hear about the decisions that they are forced to make.”

Cassie Gerhardt, associate dean of students at UND, says she knows there are students who map out their meals based on the number of free food opportunities that might be offered on campus on a particular week.

Open for business

So what’s UND doing about it?

Cassie Gerhardt

Cassie Gerhardt

A team of UND staff members, including Gerhardt, who also serves as director of student involvement & parent programs; Kristi Okerlund, assistant director of student involvement & parent programs; and Orlynn Rosaasen, director of dining services, is taking the issue of food insecurity at UND head on.

Recently, the University opened up the “Food for Thought Food Pantry” for students, located in Room 314C on the third floor of the Memorial Union. In addition, the University has implemented a “Swipe it Forward” program that allows students to donate some of their “bonus meals” from their University board plans, or cash, to other students in need.

The pantry currently is open two hours each day, Monday through Friday. The times vary depending on the day, allowing for adequate staffing. It’s stocked with a variety of nonperishable food items and personal-care products that are free for student patrons, though some high-demand items might carry a limit as to the numbers students can take each visit.

“It works the same as any food pantry,” Gerhardt said. “It’s not a grocery store.”

Food for Thought Food Pantry

Personal care items are well stocked and ready for students to pick them up at the new Food for Thought Pantry in Room 314C in the Memorial Union. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

Initial investment

The pantry is open to all currently enrolled students. There will be comment cards available for students to request particular items, and staff in the Student Involvement Office will track trends on what items are popular and not.

Gerhardt said the pantry was made possible because of a $5,000 investment from UND Student Government.

“After that, it will be dependent on donations,” she said. “It’s not using any state funds nor other student fees.”

Rosaasen said that initial food donations for the pantry came from local food vendors that work with UND Dining Services.

The plan is to have the pantry open on-demand during UND’s summer sessions, and have student workers or volunteers run it next fall, according to Okerlund.

Okerlund added that the pantry would provide opportunities for student organizations to get involved and amass volunteer hours.

The location, on the Memorial Union’s third floor, was chosen simply because it was available and appropriate for the needs of a food pantry, Gerhardt said.

Over the hump

The Swipe it Forward program is part of a national trend taking place on college campuses, Rosaasen said. The University of Minnesota rolled out a similar plan last fall.

Cara Halgren

Cara Halgren

Depending on a student’s board plan, they are allotted a certain number of bonus meals, which they are allowed to use for guests or however they see fit. Swipe it Forward allows students to donate up to two bonus meals to other students each time they log in to the Campus Connection website, a centralized system that, among other University functions, regulates student board plans.

Students can also donate cash, up to $25 of what is referred to as “Dining Dollars,” the same way.

Gerhardt said the program is a good way to help students “get over the hump.”

Dining Services has the task of converting all of the Swipe it Forward donations, bonus meals or cash, into individual cards, each of which is good for three meals. The UND Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities will handle dispensing the three-swipe meal cards to students in need or who have shown signs of food insecurity.

Halgren said, though the issue of food insecurity is a hot topic on colleges campuses right now, what UND is doing is not just a response to national trends or studies.

“This is a response to what we are seeing here at UND,” she said. “It all goes to the notion that, for students to be successful, they need nourishment. It’s hard to study and be successful if you’re hungry.”


Nonperishable food items or personal-care products for the Food for Thought Food Pantry can be dropped off at the Student Involvement Office on the main floor of the Memorial Union.

Cash donations for the pantry, can be sent to the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, labeled Food Pantry Fund, Fund Number: 67459.

Food for Thought Food Pantry Hours:

Monday: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Tuesday: 8:30-10:30 a.m.

Wednesday: 3-5 p.m.

Thursday: 2-4 p.m.

Friday: 9-11 a.m.