Following the recent addition of Au Bon Pain, renovations to SAGA, and revised meal plan options including docked hours of food availability, elimination of meal swipes outside of SAGA, and a mandate for all first years to purchase the most expensive meal plan, food and nutrition on campus have been contemptuous topics of discussion. These changes have been even more hotly contested after the creation of a food pantry on campus – many students have expressed unsettling concern regarding the reality that a food pantry even need exist on this campus. Considering 87% of students receive some sort of financial aid, one would presume that would cover any and all costs students are unable to pay.
Food insecurity is defined by “Hunger on Campus,” a report by the College and University Food Bank Alliance as “the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.” When this definition is taken in to consideration, the problem becomes more of an applicable and relatable phenomenon, especially as it pertains to college students.
In fact, according to the College and University Food Bank Alliance, food scarcity at colleges and universities is not an uncommon problem. As of February 23rd, 2018, there were 596 college and university campuses nationwide that provided food pantry services to their students.
The statistics regarding food insecure students found in “Hunger on Campus” were actually the stimulus that prompted HWS faculty and staff to recognize the potential need for and value of a food pantry on our campus. Concerns were raised by campus members including Tremaine Robertson and Chaplain Maurice, who then passed the job on to Jennifer Tufano.
Tufano currently serves as the Office and Event Support Person in the Office of Spiritual Engagement, and after learning of her experience in creating food opportunities for students at her children’s schools in the past, was asked to play a part in the creation of the pantry – though the pantry itself has no religious affiliation.
In terms of the number of students facing food insecurity on campus, Jenn Tufano says, “that is the big unknown. All the information we have is anecdotal. It comes from our network of staff and faculty members who work with students […] We’ve not done any sort of formal sampling, study – yet! It’s coming.” This being said, it is known that certain groups of students tend to experience food insecurity more than others.
According to “Hunger on Campus,” food insecure students tend to live off-campus, attend school as first-generation college students, and belong to underrepresented and/or oppressed groups – sometimes international students. Statistics found that these students usually have jobs at school, receive financial aid, and may come from circumstances which restrict the amount of income they actually use for purchases like food and personal items.
While college students are notorious for being “broke,” these college students may be paying for school and/or rent and/or school supplies with money that should be going towards their nutrition. Some students may even be supporting their families by sending fractions of their paychecks home.
In other words, these students face food insecurity because sacrificing food may be the only way they can afford their education. Thus, in the words of Jenn Tufano, our food pantry aims to “make sure that issues of food insecurity are addressed and alleviated on campus for any and every member of [the HWS] community,” ensuring that enough good quality food is available whenever someone needs it.
The HWS food pantry, “Pass the Plate,” officially opened on January 26th in Demarest 012, and is excited and ready to accommodate the hunger needs of this campus. While “some students may be wondering whether or not they’re hungry enough,” Tufano stresses that the food pantry is open to “anybody, any student, at any time, for any reason, no questions asked…there are no background checks, there are no financial aid checks,” and no appointments necessary she contined.
Students, faculty and staff need simply stop by Jenn Tufano’s office in Demarest 22, ask to go to the food pantry, and go with Jenn to “grocery shop” for any and all items necessary or wanted to fulfill food insecurity – Jenn says, “we’re not going to hand someone a prepackaged bag of food. So, they can look at the shelves, and decide what they need, take what they need – period – and leave.” Interactions are completely anonymous aside from a brief intake form designed to collect data on the amount and profile of students and staff being catered to, which ultimately stays with Jenn in the pantry.
To anyone looking to help out with the food pantry, volunteers are needed and welcome. Tasks would include greeting visitors and showing them around the pantry, as well as answering questions, organizing food items, and cleaning the space. Eventually, Tufano says, “as we get more sophisticated and get more food in and out, we also are going to connect with Food Link, based out of Rochester. They do a lot of food safety handling trainings. It’s learning about […] looking at expiration dates, looking at dented items, and how to handle those things so that we make sure that the food that’s being given out is safe.”
In terms of donations, the pantry is currently welcoming shelf-stable non-perishable food items such as pasta, peanut butter, canned soups, and canned vegetables. Other ways to get involved include attending Mrs. Vincent’s open house dinners, where different types of kits are assembled to cater to specific needs, such as winter weather, shower supplies, and snacks.
While “Pass the Plate” is a step in the right direction to bridge the gap of food scarcity on campus, the important thing to note is that the food pantry is not a be-all-end-all solution to the problem. Efforts to communicate with Sodexo and food service administration to produce desired change have historically proven to be largely fruitless, and without collective, drastic action, the issue may not produce a solution in terms of a longstanding eradication of the systemic enterprise that institutes the insufficient nourishment of this campus.
“Pass the Plate” and its affiliates are incredibly thankful for the overwhelming support and encouragement that has been shown to them since their opening and are excited to expand the food pantry in the future, looking to eventually start providing fresh produce and frozen foods to those facing food insecurity once use of the pantry picks up. From opportunities to collaborate with Fribolin Farm, to potentially creating a food pantry student board, allowing it to function on student participation alone, Tufano stresses that “really, as far as I’m concerned, the sky is the limit in terms of what we can offer. I would love for this to be even more student driven than it is.”