Carson Zubke is a senior health services administration and accounting major from Waubay, South Dakota, who, through a personal connection, saw a need for hunger relief at USD. He spearheaded Charlie’s Cupboard, an on-campus food pantry available to students.

“The idea for Charlie's Cupboard came up when I was talking to a friend who shared a story about their struggle to buy groceries and meals over weekends or breaks because they didn't have a support network at home to help when campus dining options are more limited,” explained Zubke. “I thought if there is someone who I've known for three years who has struggled with this problem, how many others share that experience?” 

Students affected by food insecurity experience challenges beyond hunger. Food insecurity is shown to impact academic performance and ability to afford housing and other basic needs. Food insecurity is not only missing meals some of the time—it is also having to make a choice between meals and tuition. Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap Project shows Clay County, South Dakota, as one of the most underserved communities in the state in terms of food insecurity. Further, nearly one-third of incoming USD students are from low-income or first-generation backgrounds.

Zubke is a former student body president, serving in that role during the 2019-20 academic year, and worked with the USD Foundation during that time to raise funds to get his concept off the ground.

“During Unite for USD – a 1,862-minute fundraiser to support USD, in honor of its founding – donors contributed more than $20,000 to get this great project up and running,” he explained. “All of USD came together to support a project that didn’t even have a space yet. Everyone believed in it and made it happen.”

Charlie’s Cupboard is located in the Center for Continuing Education at the center of campus and is accessible to all USD students with a current student ID. Its hours of operation will be determined each semester, though students can expect Charlie’s Cupboard to work in collaboration with other community resources to maximize access to these important services. Staffing will be coordinated through Charlie’s Cupboard staff and volunteer networks.

Groups will work Friday through Wednesday to collect food, stock shelves and sort packages, then the pantry will open the second and third Thursday of each month from 4-7 p.m. with plans to expand. “It’s our hope that involvement in the pantry is a gateway to get students involved in other areas of USD and have the best possible experience while here,” Zubke explained.

The items most needed by Charlie’s Cupboard are non-perishable, convenient and popular foods, things that can be made quickly between classes; household items like laundry detergent, toothpaste and hygiene products are also in demand.

Zubke says he owes a big “thank you” to all who have supported the pantry from its inception. “It will be a critical service, especially now, but it would not be possible without all the support we’ve gotten from our community, students, administration and alumni,” he said.

You can find Charlie’s Cupboard on Facebook and Instagram at @usdpantry.

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