According to Student Emergency Services, 1 in 4 UT students face difficulties affording food. Among them is history freshman Elise Randall, who is facing food insecurity after running out of Dine In Dollars near the end of the semester.
Despite University programs to combat food insecurity, students continue to struggle. Randall visits food banks once a week to gather ingredients and cook in the Jester basement kitchen. Rather than keeping the food to herself, Randall invites students to join her at no cost.
“There’s no way for me to cook in my dorm or to store food in my dorm after I make it,” Randall said. “So I figured that (since) it’s from a food bank, I might as well share with as many people as I possibly can.”
To spread the word, Randall sends out messages in the Finesse Nation GroupMe, a group chat dedicated to finding free food and other deals on campus.
Providing everything from ingredients to utensils, Randall said conversation is her only requirement.
“If I’m making food for them, I want to get to know who I’m making food for,” Randall said. “I love meeting new people and being able to converse with people while I cook. It helps me concentrate.”
Bell Kolev, radio-television-film and English junior, attended and said students discussed how food provided by UT Outpost and Daily Bread are useful. However, they often require microwave access and additional funds to purchase storage containers.
“Elise was able to avoid all of these problems by using the pasta that she got from one of those programs (to feed) not only herself, but other people,” Kolev said. “She’s able to use the group chat to help a ton of other people, and she’s creating this culture of giving that is so important.”
In addition to providing students with food, Kolev said Randall also serves as an example for students looking to combat food insecurity.
“Elise is taking food banks like Outpost and Daily Bread a step further not only by
giving away food, but by making it and creating an environment where the food becomes truly accessible,” Kolev said.
Out of Dine In Dollars, biology sophomore Sara Morakabian said she chooses between spending money to eat out or eating what’s in her dorm.
“The free meal helped a lot,” Morakabian said. “Elise started a chain reaction of kindness with sharing.”
After the first cooking session brought in five students and the second brought in 10, Randall said she is hopeful more students will attend as she continues.
“I hope I’m able to continue for the rest of the semester and start it up again next year,” Randall said. “I want to be able to do it at least once a week to provide a meal for them that they know is going to be there.”
As an aspiring chef, Randall said cooking for students also provides an opportunity to practice her skills and
“My favorite compliment someone in the group chat gave me was asking me if I would be their mom,” Randall said. “That’s the highest compliment because nobody cooks better food than your mom. It makes me really happy seeing how well it was received.”