January 13, 2020 9:39:06 AM
STARKVILLE -- Deshaun Hackett didn't want to take the last carton of milk from the refrigerator, but Harmony Clarke insisted.
"We're going to get more on Monday," Clarke said. "You're fine."
All the milk was gone by Friday evening at Bully's Closet and Pantry, a one-stop shop for food, professional clothing, school supplies and hygiene products for Mississippi State University students. It opened with a ribbon-cutting Friday morning and started distributing supplies that afternoon.
The shelves were lined with canned fruits and vegetables, beans and soup, boxes of cereal, Kleenex, personal items such as razors and deodorant and much more. Frozen meals and perishables such as milk and eggs were kept in the freezer and fridge, with a list on a white board keeping track of them.
School supplies such as pens and notebooks fill another set of shelves, and the next room in the small Morgan Avenue building contains racks lined with professional clothing, including blazers, for students to use as needed for job interviews. The building was formerly used for faculty housing, and BCP acquired the space in September 2018.
About 30 percent of college students nationwide struggle with food insecurity, so BCP will serve as "one more layer of support" for those students, MSU Vice President of Student Affairs Regina Hyatt told The Dispatch.
"We hope (the pantry) can alleviate, for the students that are most in need, some of the stress that they experience in not knowing where their next meal is coming from," she said.
The pantry will be open from 1 to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. Students can come in once a week, and BCP provides a makeshift grocery list so they can feel like they are actually shopping, said Clarke, one of BCP's three graduate assistant staff members.
There was "a good rush" of students when the doors first opened, Clarke said, but by 3 p.m. the shop was empty, most likely due to the stormy weather.
Hackett and Dominique Williams, both juniors, came in around 4:30 despite the downpour and filled a bag with canned soup, beans, apple juice and paper towels, among other things. When Hackett picked up bread and peanut butter and asked for jelly, Clarke made sure he and Williams were OK with the only available flavor, grape, before handing them a jar.
A group effort
Mayah Emerson knew that other Southeastern Conference universities had professional clothes closets, she said, so she included the idea in her platform when she successfully ran for president of the Mississippi State University Student Association in the spring semester of 2018.
"Students were asking about places to access professional clothing, so we really just saw it as meeting a need," Emerson said.
The idea expanded to include a food pantry when the Office of Student Affairs got involved, she said, and her successor, current SA president Jake Manning, continued her work with the university to bring BCP to life.
Over about 18 months, BCP amassed 900 cans of vegetables, 400 cans of fruit and more than 1,000 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste, to name a few, said Montelleo Hobley, behavioral intervention team coordinator in the MSU Dean of Students' Office.
A wide variety of student organizations and campus departments worked to stock the pantry, including MSU Athletics, which held drives at several football games and offered free tickets to two basketball games in exchange for donations, Hyatt said. MSU Police Chief Vance Rice asked every officer in the department to fill a box with supplies, and they did, Hyatt said.
BCP collected tax-deductible monetary donations through the MSU Foundation, which will continue to identify and pursue donors, and student organizations will help by holding food and supply drives, Hyatt said.
MSU President Mark Keenum had three words for Hyatt when she approached him with the idea for BCP: "Make it happen."
"When we think about people who are in need of food, we tend to think about people in far-off, distant lands, but we have people in need right here in our own community, right here on our campus," Keenum told a crowd of about 50 at Friday's press conference.
BCP is the newest addition to MSU's Food Security Network, which includes the Block by Block program for students to donate part of their meal plan to other students and the Maroon Meals alert system for the location and availability of food on campus.
Block by Block currently serves between 200 and 300 students, with participation increasing in recent years, Hyatt said. Faculty in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition are conducting research that will hopefully shed more light on how prevalent food insecurity is on the MSU campus, she said.
BCP will remain stocked with food items thanks to partnerships with the United Way of Central Mississippi and the Hattiesburg-based nonprofit Extra Table, as well as student and faculty donations, Hyatt said. The donation boxes in the back of the building saw several contributions Friday, Clarke said.
The staff is open to feedback on what students need that BCP does not yet have, such as shoes and a section for baby supplies. Hackett asked the staff for salt and pepper, and Clarke put it on the list of items to add.
After filling their bag, Hackett and Williams hoped to catch a bus in order to stay out of the rain on their way out of BCP Friday afternoon. Hackett, a first-semester transfer student from Hinds Community College in Raymond, said he is grateful for the pantry's help but hopes he does not find himself using it often.
"I know there are more disadvantaged people than I am," he said.