More than food: What an on-campus basic needs pantry would look like

By Anthony Cave

Among college students, food insecurity is a well-documented barrier to academic success and continued enrollment, but for some UNLV students, food isn’t the only area where their basic needs go unmet.

Since 2018, the office of Service Learning and Leadership has coordinated “Take What You Need” pop-up events two to three times a semester.

It’s a simple set-up: Anyone with a UNLV ID and basic needs can, as the name implies, grab what they need. That includes toiletries, clothing, and even bedding.

Donations come from multiple sources including UNLV employees and the United Way of Southern Nevada. Staff donated an impressive number of basic-needs items for the most recent event on Feb. 10.

“The issue of basic needs on campus is so large that it’s going to be impossible for any one entity to serve as a one-stop,” said Rian Satterwhite, director of the office of Service Learning and Leadership.

So, Satterwhite wants a dedicated, permanent space, ideally in the Student Union, for a basic-needs pantry.

The pop-up event — the next one is scheduled for April 7 — are separate from the UNLV Food Pantry, which is within the School of Integrated Health Sciences.

But, a basic needs pantry and the college’s existing food pantry can more than co-exist. Satterwhite would like to see a “hub model” where there are multiple options for students and the UNLV community.

“Things like the food pantry are foundational and are incredible in providing kind of immediate access,” he said. “The key is going to be all of those areas communicating.”

About 3,600 students – around 12% of the population – across UNLV experience either food  housing insecurity.

As for funding, while the current effort receives about $6,000 annually, Satterwhite said UNLV is a finalist for a three-year $500,000 grant.

That would allow the basic-needs pantry to fund student workers and establish a permanent on-campus location.

A decision on that grant should come by May 2022.


If you’d like to help stock a Take What You Need pop-up event, you can buy items from this Amazon wishlist, which ships directly to the department. Service, Learning, and Leadership also accepts in-person donations of gently used clothing and household essentials.

Examples of items needed include:

  • New/unused hygiene items: Antibacterial soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, shavers, shaving cream, deodorant, sanitary napkins, tampons, toothpaste, toothbrushes, towels, toilet paper, paper towels 
  • Clean bedding: sheets, pillowcases, blankets, pillows
  • Clean clothing
  • School supplies: backpacks, notebooks, writing utensils
  • Kitchen items: small appliances, pots, pans, plates, bowls, utensils

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