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Eagles Nest Pantry Fills Critical Void for USM Students, Staff

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 04:02pm | By: Van Arnold

When personnel within The University of Southern Mississippi's School of Social Work hatched the idea for a food pantry, no one could have foreseen the heights to which the initiative would soar.

What began as a simple, donation-based program housed on USM's Hattiesburg campus has grown into a full-fledged service organization involving benefactors from across the Pine Belt region.

Since its opening in October, 2016, the pantry has benefited from various food drives, fund-raising concerts and related efforts from groups inside and outside the University family. Those regularly donating food and other basic necessities to the pantry are practically too numerous to recite.

Located in the basement of The Hub on the Hattiesburg campus, The Eagle's Nest provides food, hygiene items, school supplies and other assorted products to students and staff. Only a current Southern Miss identification card is needed to access the pantry.

Tamara Hurst, assistant professor in the School of Social Work and Eagle's Nest adviser, says the pantry serves to fill a void that can occur during difficult times for USM students and employees.

“For students this can mean a roommate who unexpectedly leaves, a job that ends, or a car that breaks down. These expenses often mean something has to give. We don't want that something to be food,” said Hurst. “For staff, these challenges might include unexpected medical bills or family members that return home and strain an already stretched budget. Food is something the pantry can supply to help during hard times so people can focus on other things.”

Hurst notes that on-campus food pantries are becoming more and more common across the country. Increased tuition prices, cost of books, and living expenses all contribute to financial stress.

“It's not like a couple of decades ago where someone could go pick up a part-time job to help make ends meet,” she said. “The opportunities aren't as readily available as they used to be.”

As part of its impressive evolution, the pantry has joined forces with the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, Extra Table, and the Mississippi Center for Justice to form the College and University Hunger Alliance. The Alliance will provide technical assistance and access to resources for colleges and universities who want to develop or sustain their campus food pantries.

“We want our students to achieve their full potential while enrolled in higher education and graduate on time without the added stress of food insecurity,” said Hurst.

The Eagle's Nest is open Monday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. during the current semester. Approximately 35-45 clients use the pantry daily during the days of operation. The pantry continuously accepts donations of non-perishable items, as well as monetary donations. Suggested items for donations include:

  • Canned fruit
  • Canned milk
  • Canned meats (tuna, chicken, etc.)
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Boxed or individual servings of mac and cheese
  • Spaghetti sauce and noodles
  • Shelf-stable prepared meals (beef stew, ravioli, lasagna, vegetarian meals, etc.)
  • Hygiene items (shampoo, toothpaste, tooth brushes, soap, deodorant, etc.)
  • School supplies (pens, 3-hole punched paper, spiral notebooks, etc.)

Hurst says that students are routinely offering suggestions for new pantry items. Among the more recent additions are baby supplies such as food and diapers. A social work intern has been providing recipes and prepackaged meals to help clients who are learning how to assemble meals.

Going forward, Hurst mentions that a primary objective is the formation of an advisory board comprised of faculty, staff and students to help with sustainability of the pantry.

To learn more about The Eagle's Nest, call 601.266.4163 (Hattiesburg campus) or 228.214.3340 (Gulf Park campus) or visit: