Earlier this month, Jayna Lennon ‘20 received the Mathews Medal, NC State’s highest nonacademic honor, for the lasting impact she has made on campus. As executive director of Feed the Pack, the university’s on-campus food pantry, Lennon is a staunch advocate for advancing the basic needs of the Wolfpack community. She has worked for years to lead and expand awareness of this essential community resource.
As a freshman, Lennon served as a member of the Student Government Dining Committee and witnessed how food insecurity was affecting the campus community, including students, staff, and faculty. “Approximately 14.8 percent of NC State’s students experience low or very low food security,” she explains. In spring 2017, she started volunteering with Feed the Pack and joined the leadership team the following fall. “Food is more than sustenance,” Lennon says as she details the communal aspects of meals.
Through a Boren Scholarship, Lennon studied abroad in Morrocco during her junior year, an extracurricular opportunity that she says broadened her appreciation of food’s cultural importance. “Living in Morroco during Ramadan allowed me to experience another culture’s relationship with food and gave me a profound understanding of the impact it can have in our lives.” Meals are at the heart of most holidays and social events, so food insecurity can pervade many aspects of a person’s life.
A personal experience profoundly shaped Lennon’s own relationship with food. Early in her academic career, Lennon struggled with an eating disorder which led her to temporarily withdraw in her sophomore year. She noted how her experience went beyond malnourishment and affected her academically and socially. “In a different way, I experienced a version of the ramifications of not having a regular and secure source of nourishment. The effects go far beyond hunger,” she says. Lennon has since served as a mental health ambassador at the Counseling Center in order to challenge mental health stigmas on campus.
Lennon’s work with Feed the Pack has been transformational for both herself and the organization. While she’s been involved, Feed the Pack moved from its original location in the basement of Broughton Hall to a facility focused on providing essentials in an environment that ensures the respect of the community members it serves. In 2019, the pantry had 3,904 visits and distributed 40,966 pounds of food.
“Working with Feed the Pack has been healing,” Lennon says. More than that, it’s given her a channel to improve the lives of many in the NC State community. Lennon’s unique understanding of the intersection of food, community, and mental health has helped her spread Feed the Pack’s message linking food security and dignity.
“Jayna Lennon has changed NC State for the better,” her award nomination explains, “and the Pack will benefit from her efforts for years to come.”
As a key component of Pack Essentials, Feed the Pack is operating pop-up pantries on a limited basis to provide much-needed community support during the coronavirus response. More information is available at https://feedthepack.dasa.ncsu.edu.