Colleges ahead of state initiative in fighting hunger

The State University of New York at Fredonia and Jamestown Community College are ahead of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deadline for the 2018 “No Student Goes Hungry Program.” Cuomo recently announced all New York state public colleges at SUNY and the City University of New York will have fully-functioning food pantries by the end of the fall semester in December.

“Hunger should never be a barrier for those seeking to achieve their dreams of a higher education,” Cuomo said. “New York is proud to be the first state in the nation to require every public campus to have a food pantry, ensuring that our students have all they need on the path to success.”

Following the announcement, a Food and Insecurity Task Force was created in the SUNY system to study the current issue of food scarcity among college students.

“Even before the governor’s initiative, we were aware of food insecurity here and taking action,” said Virginia Horvath, President of SUNY Fredonia. “Fredonia students were telling us about the problem, and wanted to do something about it.”

Fredonia’s food pantry was established in 2017 by the Student Health Center, Counseling Center and the Office of Campus Life. The food pantry was recognized by SUNY Student Affairs as a Best Practice Program for Non-Traditional Students.

“Faculty and staff have donated to our pantry, so it has been a real collaboration to fill the shelves,” said Horvath.

At JCC, a food pantry was created around 2013 when Tom Meara, sustainability senior project manager, and Shannon Bessette, anthropology professor, noticed a need for one.

“We just noticed that our students had a need for (a food pantry),” Bessette said.

Bessette said she would frequently engage students who were extremely tired and stressed — a leading cause for the exhaustion was hunger.

“Students often didn’t seem well or seemed stressed,” she said. Also the stress comes at various times in the school year.

The result of this realization was the creation of three food pantries on all three of JCC’s campuses — Cattaraugus, North County and Jamestown.

Bessette said the need for the food pantry fluctuates throughout the school year and during each semester. She explained that students appear to utilize the food pantry more during the beginning of a semester and again near the end of one. She attributed spikes in food pantry use to financial aid and how it’s distributed.

Bessette said students occasionally receive financial aid later than expected at the beginning of a semester, and near the end of the semester financial aid support may have been completely spent. These scenarios leave some students without additional support to purchase food.

“Those seem to be the times when people need it the most,” she said.

Bessette said first-year students who are away from their families are often faced with food scarcity as well.

Bessette said the campus food pantries meet initial and smaller needs for students and then refer the individual to a local pantry in the area. She praised efforts by Christ First United Methodist Church and St. Susan Center for donating food to the campus pantry.

The food pantry on the Jamestown campus is located on the second floor of the Hultquist Building and is open Monday-Friday from noon-2 p.m. and additional hours on Wednesday from 3-4 p.m.