The Pantry

Isaac Smith has been working on The Pantry at JMU app for a year to allow students to access The Pantry more efficiently.

A new resource is coming to JMU students: The Pantry at JMU app. This app, dated to release October 2021, was created by Isaac Smith (’20) to revitalize the usage system of The Pantry.

The Pantry is a resource for students on and off campus who may be food insecure. It provides free produce supplied by donors and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank (BRAFB). 

Over the course of about a year, Smith has curated The Pantry at JMU app for The Pantry. This app is set up to be an online ordering system for students to access The Pantry more efficiently, Jeremy Hawkins, founder of The Pantry and assistant director for Off-Campus Life, said. Hawkins and Smith have met monthly to make adjustments to the app, assembling it to be as efficient as possible, he said. 

Smith said the app started as a five-person school group project for his interactive design class while he was a senior at JMU. After brainstorming several ideas, Smith said the group outlined how an app would look for JMU’s food pantry. After graduation, Smith continued to build the app on his own and reached out to Hawkins for assistance in collaboration. 

“Isaac was looking to build up his skill set in apps for professional development and saw this as a perfect opportunity to do some real world good while gaining experience and skill set,” Hawkins said. 

Students can go on the app and create an order from the The Pantry’s inventory, Hawkins said, and select curbside or in-person pickup. He said there will be a shelf where students can walk in, grab the items they ordered and leave. For curbside, students would go to a designated parking spot on Grace Street, call The Pantry and then have their order brought to them. He said students can choose a three-word identifier to stay anonymous when picking up an order.

Part of that anonymity, Hawkins said, is born out of a desire to keep the app “low barrier” — one of the ways to do that, he said, is to not require personal information from the students picking up items.

One feature of the app is its real-time inventory. Currently at The Pantry, Hawkins and Smith said, there’s an online ordering form available, but the staff has to constantly update it manually. This app, they said, makes it easier for staff to accurately serve the needs of students who come.

Anyone who wants to use The Pantry, Smith said, can experience a different level of control in being able to plan ahead. He said the app makes shopping at The Pantry more like shopping at a grocery store. 

“While doing some research for the app when I was in school, [my group] talked to different students that were food insecure,” Smith said. “One of them mentioned that it is difficult to concentrate when they’re hungry and that the lack of nutrition was affecting their studying.”

Smith said that after talking to Hawkins, he found out there’s a stigma for using The Pantry for some students experiencing food insecurity. He said it reflects a negative impact on a sense of belonging at the university.

“[Food-insecure students] look around and see that others aren’t struggling in the same manner,” Smith said. “That’s what this app addresses — it addresses the stigma that comes with using The Pantry.” 

Hawkins said The Pantry is working in conjunction with the BRAFB for the app. Robin Swecker, partner engagement manager for the BRAFB, said The Pantry staff decides what foods they want for their inventory, and the Food Bank provides it. 

The BRAFB was originally partnered with Off Campus Kitchen, a food recovery network that redistributed campus food to graduate students. Swecker said that program moved over into The Pantry and became a resource that all students could access rather than just a select group. 

“I think that this app has more benefits than just anonymity,” Smith said. “This app saves everyone that wants to use The Pantry time and presents clarity.”

Contact Kenzie White at white6mj@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.