Student Food Pantry at BBC upgrades to new space thanks to generous donation amid pandemic

The new BBC Student Food Pantry is located at WUC 256

The BBC Student Food Pantry upgraded to a new space this year, thanks to the support of a lifelong learning student named Herb Gruber and his partner, FIU alumna Donna Steffens ’06.

The new pantry, already open for business, is located at Wolfe University Center 256 and, like its MMC counterpart, is open to all currently enrolled FIU students. Students may visit once per week and take up to 10 pounds of food.

Launched in 2014, the FIU student food pantries are run by the Center for Leadership & Service (CLS) and are supported by charitable donations from faculty, staff, student organizations and members of the community. Students do not need to provide proof of need to use the facility.

There are two pantry locations: WUC 256 at BBC and Graham Center 319 at MMC. Combined, the pantries accommodated more than 5,500 visits in the 2019-2020 academic year and provided students nearly 35,600 pounds of food. The BBC location accounted for more than 470 of those visits and nearly 4,000 pounds of food. This school year, the two have already distributed nearly 20,000 pounds of food in more than 2,400 visits.

CLS Program Director Joanna Garcia, who oversees the initiative, says the pandemic has shown the pantries to be a vital campus resource, and she is grateful for continued support.

“At the food pantry, we continue to face challenges to meet the growing need of our students as the pandemic stretches on,” Garcia said. “Having the financial support from donors like Mr. Gruber and Ms. Steffens makes a huge difference.”

With the couple’s gift, the pantry, which formerly operated out of a kitchen space in the CLS office suite at BBC, now has a dedicated facility in the student center. In addition to the upgrade, their gift also helped the pantry stock up on feminine hygiene products, face coverings to protect against COVID-19, non-perishable foods and more.

Herb Gruber and Donna Steffens '06
Herb Gruber and Donna Steffens ’06

Inspired by a campus experience that continues to enrich their lives

Gruber is a longtime resident of Miami and a graduate of Miami Beach Senior High School. Though he isn’t a graduate of FIU like Steffens (he graduated from Stanford University), after retiring from his career as a finance and real estate executive, Gruber has spent the last 10 years visiting the Biscayne Bay Campus to audit art history and biology classes and to participate in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at FIU. (OLLI is an organization at FIU for community members over the age of 50, who participate in noncredit educational experiences and other social engagement opportunities at BBC.)

Like Steffens, an artist who spent most of her BFA studies in the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts at BBC, Gruber has grown to love FIU’s quiet, oceanside north campus. 

“BBC is a stunning example of a perfect campus, one of the most beautiful of the Miami educational system,” Gruber said. “It is a prime location with superbly designed buildings, and an impressive, dedicated staff of professionals. The open surroundings provide a motivating atmosphere for many of our city-bound students. A perfect way for students to study while enjoying the surrounding beauty.”

Being immersed in the vitality of campus and student life left a lasting impression on Gruber and Steffens.

When the pandemic struck, the couple knew students at their beloved BBC could be struggling – and after some research, they learned that 40 percent of students on college campuses nationwide experience food insecurity.

So, they took action.

The pantry isn’t the only way Gruber and Steffens have stepped up during the pandemic. With a gift to the FIUstrong campaign, they helped provide emergency assistance to BBC-based students who reached out to the university for financial support. Among their many FIU-focused initiatives, they’ve also provided luncheon vouchers and hosted dinners at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management for people facing food insecurity at FIU. 

And, Gruber said, they don’t intend to stop there. In fact, Gruber has a longstanding history of dedicated support to FIU, much of which has been directed to the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. His giving, made in honor of and attributed to Dean Michael Heithaus, includes establishing an essay contest for biology students and supporting outstanding faculty research endeavors.

“It has been a very rewarding undertaking, and we intend to continue as long as our people have needs,” Gruber said. 

The FIU Student Food Pantries run entirely on donations. If you are interested in making monetary or non-perishable food donation, please visit the pantry website for information.