Thirty percent of all college students experience food insecurity during their pursuit of higher education. As defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, food insecurity refers to “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle”. College student food insecurity issues are often underrecognized, under-examined, and under-addressed, which makes it a crisis that greatly impacts their lives. Students’ health and academic performance can be negatively affected by food insecurity on college campuses and because of this, students tend to fall into a lower GPA category. These struggles can diminish a student’s ability to excel in class, and contribute to lower attendance and completion rates. In addition to academic performance, the health and well-being of students also suffer because of food insecurity. Students who are food insecure are more likely to report indicators of higher rates of stress and depression.

Breann Wallrapp is the director of the Northern Michigan University food pantry, located on campus in Gries Hall. Breann oversees the operations of the pantry, which include ordering food, accepting donations, and staffing the pantry with student interns from the Student Leader Fellowship Program (SLFP). She also helps with coordination and outreach among local organizations who support the pantry, spearheads on-campus donation campaigns, ensures there are proper open hours for people to attend the pantry, and that the pantry is meeting the needs of the NMU community.

“I think the food pantry is needed on campus because it helps meet the needs of the students, which is really important. As an academic advisor, I see so often that student’s basic needs are going unmet and it’s impossible to help them do better in the classroom and really achieve the level of education they can if they aren’t having their basic needs met” Breann states.

The NMU food pantry is open to all NMU students, faculty, and staff in need of items. “Students are the majority of the population we serve, but we are open to any members of the Northern community who have a need,” Breann states.

The pantry suggests anyone from the NMU community in need of food assistance come to the pantry once a week for a bag of groceries. “We understand that what they receive may not be enough to sustain a person for the entire week, but it’s hopefully enough to supplement for the missing food items that a person might need with the cost of inflation,” says Breann.

Food insecurity on college campuses is often overlooked. “When you think of a traditional college aged student, you think that they live on campus and have a meal plan, but there are so many non-traditional students who live off campus, may not have consistent support and are struggling to find food,” Breann states.

The pantry has shelf stable, nonperishable items, as well as a small selection of household items including silverware, plates, cups, pots, pans, paper towels, toilet paper for students who live off campus, and a small shelf of toiletry items. There are also a few specialty items that get donated every so often and they also offer some produce items seasonally.

The NMU food pantry also partners with Days for Girls which produces cost effective, safe, sustainable and contextually relevant feminine products. The pantry has a shelf that is restocked every few weeks consisting of a variety of goods. Community members are encouraged to stop into the NMU food pantry to learn more about available Days for Girls products.

NMU FOod Pantry

The food pantry currently has around 150-200 monthly visitors, which is up about 30-40 more visits than 2022. In an effort to keep the pantry fully stocked, it costs between $800-$1,200 per month to receive food from Feeding America West Michigan. The food pantry encourages students with an unlimited meal plan through the University not to use the food pantry unless it is absolutely necessary in order to save food for individuals who don’t have meal plans on campus and may be experiencing food insecurity.

The food pantry is open year-round in order to provide resources to students, staff, and faculty who reside in the area during semester breaks, holiday breaks, and summer months. Hours of operation vary and are more limited when school is not in session. Individuals are encouraged to check hours of operation prior to arriving.  One challenge the food pantry is currently working to overcome is increasing access to healthier food options. They do not want to be perceived as being just a place to get junk food and snacks. “We want to make sure we are providing students with food that is healthy and sustainable for their lives, not just a quick fix,” Breann states.

NMU’s food pantry wants to contribute to recipients improving and maintaining their health and wellbeing, but it’s challenging when unhealthy foods are more readily available at lower costs. “Trying to find a balance of offering health conscious products while maintaining a budget is really challenging. So many people face this every day, but especially those in rural areas where food scarcity is a reality,” says Breann.

An additional challenge is trying to break the stigma and misconceptions associated with food pantries. The stigma people feel and associate with food pantries holds them back from accessing the resources they need. Individuals think they are not needy enough or are embarrassed about needing help. Breann says she is starting to see a positive shift in the right direction. “The food pantry is really trying to be a welcoming place and provide a supportive environment where everyone who walks in feels comfortable and not ashamed. People often think someone else’s needs are more important than their own, but it’s for everyone who has a need, so if you have a need, the pantry is for you!” Breann says.

Not knowing what to expect when visiting the pantry is something that may hold students back. When someone walks in, they are asked to sign in either through a QR code or on the sign in sheet that records their name, address, and the number of people living in their household. This information is not shared outside of the pantry and is collected for their own records, so the pantry can continue to get funding and food from Feeding America West Michigan. There’s no ID or proof of need required to receive food. It’s a very simple, discreet, check in process.

The location of the food pantry may also be a barrier for students. Gries Hall is located on the opposite side of campus from where students reside and where most classes take place. There is limited parking near the pantry, which makes it a challenge for commuter students. “Students who live off campus have a very hard time getting to the pantry when they don’t have transportation. Students who need it the most live off campus, but if they can’t get to campus during the time our pantry is open, it’s hard for them to get the food they need,” Breann states. One discussed solution to this issue would be extending the food pantry hours and increasing promotion on campus so more NMU community members can access assistance.

The NMU food pantry accepts unexpired, non-perishable foods and monetary donations through the NMU foundation. A good way for a class or organization to help students in need is to consider partnering with the food pantry. “It’s students helping students and it’s the campus community you are building up. It’s a great feeling to have. You can help others and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. At the end of the school year, when students are moving out of the dorms, those with extra food can always donate it to the food pantry instead of lugging it all back home” Breann states.

Donations are accepted at the Dean of Students office located in the Hedgcock building on NMU’s campus and at the NMU food pantry during the times they are open. When the pantry is not open, there is a box outside of the front door that donations can be left in.

Breann suggests a fun way to donate to the pantry is to go shopping with your family or friends and pick out fun things that the pantry doesn’t always have available. She states, “Shopping with young kids can teach them to give back from an early age and it shows them how easy it is. If you found some items on sale and saved a few dollars from your own grocery bill, you can always pick up a couple cans of your favorite soups or something small to donate to the pantry.”

“There are a lot of people in the Northern community who are really excited about the food pantry and who want to help support us,” Breann says. “I’m so grateful for how supportive the community has been and how many faculty members encourage their students to use the food pantry. It’s really amazing to receive support from our faculty and staff in that way.”

The NMU Center for Rural Health and the NMU food pantry have mutual goals and visions when it comes to bettering the overall community. “Anytime that you can work together to achieve goals, you’ve just leveraged and amplified resources, knowledge and support,” Breann states. “I think this collaborative partnership is really exciting, and I look forward to seeing how we can help each other grow in the future. There are so many avenues that we can go down and events that we can participate in together.”

The NMU food pantry can be contacted by email or by calling the Dean of Students, (906) 227-1700. They will be able to answer most questions, and if they are not able to, they will get you in touch with someone who can.


The Northern Michigan University Center for Rural Health seeks to improve the health and well-being of Upper Peninsula residents and communities by developing collaborative partnerships that enhance the access and availability of affordable, quality healthcare services. For questions or comments related to this story, contact