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College of Social Work Provides Student Assistance for Big Orange Pantry

Marjorie Stillwagon, a Master of Science in Social Work student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is completing her field placement requirement on UT’s campus. Thanks to an arrangement between the College of Social Work and UT’s Big Orange Pantry, which provides emergency food assistance to UT students, faculty, and staff, Stillwagon is serving in a new internship position at the pantry.

Marjorie Stillwagon

The College of Social Work was engaged early on in planning for the pantry. Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Life and Dean of Students Shea Kidd Houze connected in June 2020 with Lori Messinger, Dean of the College of Social Work, to discuss plans for the campus pantry.The Big Orange Pantry opened in fall 2020.

Martina Ward, coordinator of field education for the MSSW program and assistant professor of practice in the College of Social Work, was instrumental in the implementation of the placement. “I found out about this opportunity through Director of Field and International Education Becky Jackson,” Ward said. “Becky connected me to Abigail Brumfield, Dean Shea, and the Big Orange Pantry Working Group so I could represent for the field team.”

Ward said the level of commitment by those planning the service made developing the internship an easy process. “Abigail is so supportive and committed as the on-site task instructor, and a member of our field team, Brittany Adams, serves as the off-site field instructor who brings the social work perspective and guidance for the student,” Ward explained. “The learning opportunities that were identified for the Big Orange Pantry appear to be a natural fit for many of the opportunities that fulfill social work learning plan competencies—case management, assessments, outreach, engaging with students and community partners, grant writing, and data collection.”

The pantry was developed through an interdisciplinary approach that incorporated input from the Department of Nutrition and student representatives in addition to the College of Social Work. “I can tell that they value having students involved in the planning and operation of the Big Orange Pantry,” Ward said. “They are committed to fostering the development of meaningful ways for students to engage with and support the Big Orange Pantry and therefore benefit the campus community.”

Stillwagon said she was drawn to the intersection of micro and macro social work—the opportunity to work with both individuals and systemic issues. “I am a micro social worker but am always aware of how social issues such as food insecurity influence clients,” she said. “My main role is to provide one-to-one sessions with patrons of the pantry who would like to learn more about outside resources such as SNAP, WIC, and local community resources.”

“BOP is a great resource for all students, as well as faculty and staff, to have. If any student is experiencing food insecurity, whether it’s just being short on money for a week or if it’s an ongoing struggle to get food on the table for their family, the BOP is working to destigmatize pantry usage and provide a welcoming environment for everyone,” she said.