College recognizes food pantry founders

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Jim Owen, a lifelong member of Clarence Presbyterian Church and donation coordinator of the Clarence Community Food Pantry, spoke with SUNY Fredonia College Council members on Wednesday about the growth of the campus’ food pantry over the past two years.

Final exams, research projects, recitals and presentations: For most college students, these are the usual stressors that accompany the end of the year. However, many students experience the additional stress of food insecurity, as dining hall points and funds have dwindled by the end of the term.

Interestingly, many students experience this struggle all year. According to a 2017 study published in “Educational Researcher,” the rising price of higher education has impacted students’ lives in multiple ways, including food insecurity and homelessness. Data from more than 30,000 two and four-year college students indicate that approximately half are food insecure; additionally, a third of two-year students are housing insecure, including 14% who are actually homeless, and between 11 and 19% of four-year students are housing insecure.

During the May meeting of the SUNY Fredonia College Council, Dr. Cedric Howard, vice president for Student Affairs, recognized the coordinators of the campus’ food pantry for meeting this need. Howard explained that the Fredonia Campus Food Pantry was created in the fall of 2016 as a pilot project by Debbie Dibble, director of Student Health; Dr. Tracy Stenger, director of Student Wellness & Support Services; and Michael Lemieux, Dean of Students.

In 2016, a letter was sent out to faculty and staff, calling for non-perishable food donations. After many donations were received, an announcement was released to students notifying them of the new service, which was originally intended to serve students at the end of the semester.

“This started off just the last few weeks of the semester when students’ points are down low and their funds are low and they really need food,” Dibble explained. “We had several students who approached us that they were food insecure, and they were telling us that there were multiple people out there in need.”

The food pantry has expanded with regular hours and multiple locations throughout the school year, including the Student Health Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and the Williams Center (daily) from 5 p.m. to midnight. A third location in LoGrasso Hall serves as an additional resource for students at the end of the semester. In 2017, SUNY recognized the Fredonia Campus Food Pantry with the Outstanding Student Affairs Award.

Lemieux recognized Jim Owen, who has coordinated the Clarence Community Food Pantry for many years. “The contribution that Jim has provided us has really increased our traffic,” said Lemieux. “The amount of bread, vegetables, pastas, sweets, all kinds of things that he brings down weekly is incredible. Students now are lining up, waiting for us to put the food out, so we know there is a great need for our students.”

Owen, whose food pantry receives an abundance of baked goods and other foods, is happy to share this resource with SUNY Fredonia. “Every community has people who are in need, as you know in your own community,” Owen said to council members. “I feel good knowing that we take care of our people in our community, and we also share with this campus — others who are in need. It’s a pleasure coming down here every week.”

Council member Russell Diethrick asked how the food pantry has been received by students and how it has positively impacted their well-being. Owen confirmed students’ positive response and added, “Students tell us that they can’t study when they’re hungry.”

Non-perishable food donations and toiletry items are accepted at the Campus Life Office and Student Health Center. Monetary tax-deductible donations are accepted through the Fredonia College Foundation’s Health Center Food Pantry Fund. For more information, contact the Student Health Center at 673-3131.