For some graduate students, affording food, among other items, can be a challenge.

A new community pantry created by the Graduate and Professional Student Council aims to change that. 

Housed in the GPSC House at 306 Alexander Avenue, the pantry opened in September to support the different needs of the graduate student body. Graduates can visit it Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons to pick up food, school supplies, childcare items and used professional clothing. 

“When we talk about startups and ideas, they basically address a problem, and I think this does that—address a problem, which is not usually recognized very well,” said Aditya Eranki, a first year master’s student in engineering management, who volunteers at the pantry and is on the GPSC committee. 

The food bank was born out of GPSC’s drive to increase support for the needs and concerns of the graduate students. Last year, the council approved the One Duke Access Fund, which gave students $200 grants for personal needs such as food, clothing or travel. 

But based on the applications for the fund, the council realized more action was needed for students who may have trouble affording food and other necessities.

“The problem with the One Duke Access Fund was that it didn’t provide a sustainable solution to food insecurity, which we consider less of an emergency and more of a chronic problem,” said Rashmi Joglekar, president of GPSC and a Ph.D. student at the Nicholas School. “Because of how strongly it was used, we thought this was a problem we wanted to address more sustainably this year.”

The fund is in the process of being restructured as an Emergency Travel Fund. 

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government affairs, emphasized that Duke's graduate students come from a variety of financial backgrounds. He encouraged students who may have concerns to work with the financial office. 

"Duke's stipends and other forms of compensation for graduate students are very competitive compared with our peer institutions but individuals have different family circumstances," he said.

The Council developed its pantry concept the summer prior to opening its doors this semester. Some of the funding for the pantry comes from the Graduate School, whereas other items are donations from students, faculty and staff. The organizational team is also seeking other funding streams and plans to put donation boxes around campus. 

The team researched what food pantries usually stock in an effort to make its purchases useful to students cooking balanced meals. Joglekar noted that childcare items are also available for students with families. 

Approximately 12 graduate students from across a variety of academic programs help run the pantry, Joglekar said.

Evanki said that as an international student, he realized that food insecurity could be a problem. Students who are from other countries may not have the same resources as their peers, or may struggle financially in the United States. 

“I even find myself being in need of a solution for this at times,” Evanki said. “There are days where [the pantry] could help, so I think if more people could recognize this effort then that would definitely help.”

Shomith Mondal, a first year master’s student in biomedical engineering, also volunteers at the pantry. He noted that being a graduate student without a regular source of income has affected his spending on food.

“I would definitely encourage people to use the [pantry],” he said. “We don’t record any names. We encourage people not to feel shy about using it, especially if there’s a need.”