The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley welcomed representatives from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighboring Partnerships and the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week, a visit heralded as an opportunity to observe the university’s Food Security Initiative.

In addition to the initiative, of which the mission is to end hunger among students attending UTRGV, Assistant Vice President for Education and Workforce Development Jayshree Bhat highlighted a federally funded program White House officials wanted to see in action.

“There’s this program called the Farmers to Families program that the USDA has launched, where they actually make boxes of farm products such as produce, milk, eggs and other things that are produced in a farm available to families free of cost,” Bhat added. “… Their visit to the Valley also imputed seeing how our operation works with the campus Food Security Initiative, but they also wanted to use the opportunity to have a food drive done to kind of coincide with their visit.”

The food drive in question was held as a drive-thru by the university in which food was distributed to more than 150 people.

The initiative itself was launched on April 17 following research by the Sustainability Fellowship for students showing that 44% of students from UTRGV reported experiencing hunger.

“We wanted to see what we could do at a systemic level to address that,” Bhat said.

“We do have the food pantry and a couple of resources on campus where our students can access free food, but the problem with that is that students don’t like to be labeled as being hungry,” he explained further. “This initiative is about addressing that hunger on campus, but in the process we want to make sure that we help them change their behavior in their eating habits as well.”

The initiative provides students access to locally sourced produce that can be used to prepare more nutritious meals.

It is a partnership between the Office of Professional Education and Workforce Development and UTRGV’s Baptist Student Ministry (BSM).

“They have a nonprofit called BSM Global Blend, which is a deli that they operate to serve the campus community on a pay what you feel model,” Bhat said. “So people can go into the deli and order smoothies and sandwiches and things like that at a pay what you feel model, which means that we’re removing any type of barrier that exists for students to feel that they have to pay a certain amount of money to get food.”