Student snapshot

Iyaira Williams

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina

Major: Public health with a community health concentration

Career Goals: Public health

Iyaira Williams sees her future self as a bridge builder between health care systems and healthier communities.

“I just know I want to serve people. I want to serve as many as I can and impact at least one,” she said.

Williams, a rising junior, is already making a difference in East Carolina University’s Purple Pantry, which aims to decrease food insecurity among students. She was ECU’s ambassador in the Collegiate Hunger Challenge, a competition among North Carolina schools. ECU took first place and a $10,000 prize.

A common misconception is that hunger is related to homelessness or poverty. “Food insecurity is not specific to one type of individual or one type of situation or lifestyle,” Williams said. “It just means that you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, and that is very prominent on college campuses.”

The Purple Pantry tries to meet students’ needs whatever the circumstance. Williams and her mother used food pantries growing up; it wasn’t any different from going to the grocery store — as it should be, she said.

“I’m just trying to give back to the hand that once gave to me and extend that hand to others,” Williams said.

She shares her story to help combat the stigma attached to food pantries or receiving help. “I like to compare it to when you’re struggling in math, you go to tutoring,” she said. “It’s the same mindset.”

Williams also is student leadership assistant in ECU’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement and a resident advisor in Jarvis Residence Hall.

– Crystal Baity