LONGMEADOW — The Wildcat Pantry at Bay Path University recently received a $20,000 in recognition of the impact it has had on campus and to further grow the initiative.

The grant was awarded by Jenzabar, a higher education software company.

Released in 2023, the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study revealed that 23% of undergraduates and 12% of graduate students — 4 million students in all — experience food insecurity. Furthermore, 8% of undergraduates and 5% of graduate students, 1.5 million people, experience homelessness. Food pantries located on college and university campuses, like the Wildcat Pantry, seek to address these issues.

According to a press release from Bay Path University, the Wildcat Pantry was started in October 2022 by Tanya Coles-Dailey, assistant director of health and wellness, because “students would skip meals, cut down on food or purchase food items based on cost rather than nutrition.” When Coles-Dailey joined Bay Path University, she said the then-dean of students was interested in beginning a food pantry. “I took that and ran with it,” she said.

As a nonprofit, Coles-Dailey explained, the Wildcat Pantry needed a sponsor. She turned to the Springfield-based Open Pantry Community Services, which agreed to work with the fledgling pantry. She has also gathered donations and ongoing support from alumni, neighbors, area businesses, churches, community organizations, student volunteers and more recently, a partnership with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

There are three main components to the Wildcat Pantry. The Wildcat Pantry stocks food, often offering healthier choices for students. The pantry began with shelf-stable items, but a donor approached Coles-Dailey with an offer to help with refrigeration. This allowed the pantry to expand its offerings to include fruit and other perishables. Over the semester break, the dining services are closed, but the pantry remains open for people taking classes between semesters.

As a university, with an all-women’s undergraduate program, Coles-Dailey said, “Feminine hygiene products was one of my focuses. She said a student had an idea to put products in restrooms, and “it grew from there — tampons, pads, deodorant” and other essentials.

Finally, the pantry has added a professional clothes closet, particularly useful for students going to interview for a job.

About 350 students visit the pantry each semester, some stop by regularly, while others may only come once.

“We’re in an affluent location,” Coles-Dailey said, referring to Longmeadow, “but not all our students live here. Many people commute. Not everyone has an extra $10 to go grab a meal. Not everyone is housed when they leave campus.”

She added, “It’s really bringing the awareness.”

The Wildcat Pantry was not universally welcomed, Coles-Dailey said. “There was some resistance at first,” she said. “But because of my approach, being a social worker and clinician, I really try to take the stigma out. No judgement.”

Coles-Dailey said the pantry is set up in the student center, next to the Starbucks, where there is a lot of foot-traffic. She encourages people nearby to come in and grab some fruit or a snack.

“It’s a take-what-you-need situation. If you need it, take it,” she said. The Wildcat Pantry is also a student work opportunity, making it less of a stigma to see people walking in and out.

Coles-Dailey said she tries to do “an organic check-in” with students to see how they are doing with their mental health in a natural, conversational way.

A colleague nominated Coles-Dailey and the Wildcat Pantry for the grant. She later learned that the pantry was one of 90 nominated programs. Coles-Dailey said the funding will go to expanding the pantry.

“Part of my vision was to have … a more consistent set up for our grad students. They’re got a lot on their plate,” Coles-Dailey said, adding that she would like to have a second pantry at Bay Path University’s East Longmeadow campus.

“I just want to make sure Bay Path knows how appreciative the students are and me,” Coles-Dailey said. “It’s become part of the campus and culture.”