Even though the University of Southern Mississippi has been shut down, the Eagle’s Nest is still open for business.
The Eagle’s Nest, a food pantry on the USM campus, provides food and other essential materials, including school and sanitary supplies, to anyone affiliated with the university.
Their hours have been somewhat altered due to the coronavirus, but they are still providing food and services to members of the university community. Actually, they have expanded their services, now being able to provide fresh produce to those they serve.
On Wednesday, May 20, for example, they were also able to distribute 60 boxes of food and 60 gallons of milk, said Tamara Hurst, an associate professor in USM’s School of Social Work and faculty mentor for the Eagle’s Nest.
This is made possible through the USDA’s Farm to Family Food Box Program, which allotted Mississippi $10 million for food distribution. But the Eagle’s Nest has been active since the fall of 2016, when Hurst started it as a project for graduate students in USM’s School of Social Work.
Merchants Foodservice brings the food from the state distribution hub in Jackson, and then Hattiesburg’s Christian Services distributes it to various locations in the area. By USDA guidelines, the food program must run through nonprofit organizations.
“We are now receiving about 100 boxes of produce each week,” Hurst said, “...usually 50 on Monday and 50 on Wednesday.”
On their first day distributing produce, the Eagle’s Nest had 50 boxes, and “we ran out before we closed.” That’s 50 boxes in less than two hours.
Even though USM is mostly shut down because of the coronavirus, the pantry is primarily staffed by student volunteers, with other volunteers coming from the community as a whole. The Eagle’s Nest is operated “100 percent through donations,” Hurst said.
“Of course, the university does provide space, time and funding lines for graduate assistants,” she added.
Until recently, the Eagle’s Nest was housed in the basement of The Hub, but because of renovation work in that facility they are in a smaller space in USM’s Stone’s Throw.
The space is convenient because it has a drive-thru window from a previous life, Hurst said.
Because of the virus and renovations, “we’ve had to totally restructure how we do things,” she said.
The food pantry serves the entire USM community, she said, including “students, faculty, and staff. Most of our visitors right now are international students and physical plant staff.”
The service provided to international students is particularly crucial right now, said Richard Kravchak, a professor in USM’s School of Music.
“The issue with our international students,” Kravchak said, “is that most of them are here on F-1 visas, student visas. That means they are not allowed to work off campus except in specific circumstances. They are in serious trouble right now.”
A large portion of the university’s international students live off campus, he said. But their inability to work presents significant difficulties in procuring even basic necessities.
“I’m always beating the drum of ‘our students need help,’ and the Eagle’s Nest is certainly part of that,” Kravchak continued.
In addition to the new supply of produce boxes, the food pantry continues to distribute “Grab n’ Go” bags of pre-packaged foods on Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. until noon. Most of their supply comes from donations, Hurst said, except for the produce that will come from the USDA grant at least until June 30.
The program also gets food from Hattiesburg’s Extra Table once a month.
Some of the food items they are particularly in need of include staples such as ramen noodles, peanut butter, cereals and pasta, granola and protein bars, and canned beans, vegetables, and fruit.
The Eagle’s Nest is also doing what they can to provide diapers, baby food and hygiene items to those who need them.
At the moment, volunteers are working on Monday through Wednesday, cleaning and packaging materials. Hours vary, so check out the Eagle’s Nest Facebook page, which provides the most up-to-date needs and services.
Donations can be dropped off at the Eagle’s Nest, temporarily located at USM’s Stone’s Throw or at the School of Social Work office, room 250 in Joseph Greene Hall. The Stone’s Throw is also where food and other materials can be picked up.
Monetary donations may be made through the USM Foundation.