Students in need of food during the winter break can turn to a service from the Knights Helping Knights Pantry that, thanks to the help of parents of UCF Knights, will provide bags with emergency supplies.

Several members of the UCF Parent & Family Philanthropy Council on Dec. 9 will pack about 50 bags from nearly 270 pounds of donated food. This service is to help meet the nutritional needs of hungry students while the pantry is closed from Dec. 13 to Jan. 9. The bags will be filled with tuna, pasta, tomato sauce, canned vegetables and ramen. Students can pick up bags from the Student Care Services office until Dec. 22, and again starting Jan. 3.

“These parents understand that some students literally spend their last penny on a textbook and they can’t eat. It’s provoked the parents to want to do more,” said Annie O’Donnell, director of UCF Parent & Family Philanthropy. The parent council is just under two years old and provides parents connections to the university and a platform for parents to donate their time, talent and resources to UCF.

The bag-packing is the parent council’s first hands-on service project. It stemmed from many of the council’s members feeling shocked and surprised when they learned students, too, struggle with hunger.

“It just did not enter into what I thought going to college was,” said Karen Manglardi, co-chair of the parent council. “The general thought was you went to college, you lived in a dorm, you had a meal plan, and you got involved with clubs and groups. I just never imagined there would be hungry students.”

Manglardi learned of the pantry from her mother, who attends UCF Learning Institute for Elders classes, and her son, Joey, whose classmate was one of the LEAD Scholars students who founded the pantry in 2009. Manglardi remembers her reaction being, “Why? There aren’t college students who don’t have money for food. That can’t be.”

She says now her reaction was wrong.

The pantry served more than 6,000 students in its founding year, and in the 2015-16 academic year, it served more than 13,000 students. It also has expanded to include clothing, a blazer-loaning service, fresh produce from the UCF Arboretum and more. The pantry added these services to draw more students in hopes of destigmatizing help and bringing the issue of hunger to light.

“Hunger is a silent problem,” said Roslyn Burttram, parent council member. Her son, Jackson, is a freshman studying engineering. “I have a friend who has struggled with hunger and has been to food pantries. Other friends told me their families needed assistance when they were growing up. These are very good friends of mine that I had known for years before I ever knew of their struggles. Hunger is not something that people will just come out and tell you.”

The pantry also offered emergency-supply bags over Thanksgiving break while campus was closed Nov. 24-27. All but three of the 25 emergency-supply bags were taken.