Room 245AA at Kirby Plaza is little more than a closet. But for some students at the University of Minnesota Duluth, it’s been a lifeline.

For the past year, volunteers have been stocking its shelves with donated pasta, cake mixes, hot chocolate and cans of food. And students have been invited to help themselves, free of charge.

UMD is only the latest in a growing number of college campuses with their own food shelves. It was prompted by the realization that some students were so financially strapped that they were going hungry, said Laura Haffield, the coordinator, who is also executive assistant to the vice chancellor for student life. “We found out that there was a need.”

About 60 students have used the food shelf, named Champ’s Cupboard, since its doors opened. While there’s no limit to what they can take, the university says the most popular items have been soup, snacks, ramen and pasta. At a university obsessed with statistics, the staff can even tell you the average number of items taken at each visit: 11.9.

“We just tell them to take whatever they need,” said Haffield.

Some students have returned more than once, says Brittany Nystrom, a graduating senior who helped run the food shelf. But at the same time, she said, “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone abuse it.”

Haffield said she surveyed food shelves at other colleges before starting this one, and set out collection baskets for donations around campus. Most of the supplies are donated by faculty and staff, but it’s not unusual for students to contribute as well, especially around this time of year. “As students are moving out of housing, a lot of them leave items behind,” she said.

Although it started out as a place for food, it also has shampoo, soap and other personal supplies. Haffield, who won the U’s Outstanding Service Award this month for starting Champ’s Cupboard, says she hopes it will grow. The students already have added a wish list: toilet paper, fruit, milk and bread.