Food pantry seeks to counter ‘food insecurity’

By Nydja Hood
Baldwin High School

Sometimes all it takes is an introduction to make a good idea great. This is just how a plan for a student pantry at Stony Brook University gained momentum.

Planning for the pantry started during the past year in two separate campus departments. At some point, each reached out to student government for help. The students put the two — Casey McGloin, of the Public Health graduate program, and Beth McGuire, director of the Roth Quad – together. “So the students were the ones to actually key us in to the fact that we were looking for their support and they said ‘Is this the same group Casey’s working on?’ and I said ‘Who’s Casey?’ ” McGuire said. “Through fate and confusion, we found each other.”

The new food pantry on Stony Brook's campus is located in the Center for Information and Technology Studies. It was stocked for the first time on July 17, 2013. (Photo by Lauriann Kormylo)

The new food pantry on Stony Brook’s campus is located in the Center for Information and Technology Studies. It was stocked for the first time on July 17, 2013. (Photo by Lauriann Kormylo)

On Sept. 18, through the combined efforts of McGloin in the School of Health, Technology and Management, as well as McGuire in the Division of Campus Residences, a food pantry is to open at the Information and Technology Center on campus to combat what both women refer to as “food insecurity.” McGloin defined it this past winter to the Stony Brook Statesman as “your typical college kid who survives on Ramen and pizza,” and a student who “physically does not have enough food.”

If it seems unusual that a campus in an affluent suburb of Long Island would need a food pantry, the organizers point to the need that has been growing on campuses nationwide since the U.S. economy faltered in 2007.

In 2012, McGuire read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a weekly journal for college faculty and staff, that highlighted the need for food pantries on college campuses nationwide. Prior to reading the article, McGuire said she was unfamiliar with student food pantries, but the article emphasized that it was students with Pell grants who were increasingly having food insecurity.

She knew that about 35 percent of Stony Brook University’s 16,000 undergraduates were eligible for Pell grants, a federal program that supplies needs-based funds to low-income students. “We knew that with that information that a food pantry would be successful on campus and obviously there would be a need for it,” McGuire said.

The 2012 article traced food problems to the U.S. economic downturn starting in 2007. Although conditions have improved, many students are still vulnerable. Quoted in the article is a 2010 City University of New York survey of CUNY students that found in 2009 that 39 percent had either gone hungry for lack of money, skipped meals, or been unable to afford balanced meals. Black and Hispanic students were more likely than white and Asian students to have had those problems, the study found.

Steven Adelson, a history and political science major at the university and Vice President of Academic Affairs for Undergraduate Student Government at Stony Brook is among the students on the food insecurity committee bringing the pantry to campus. “It’s important for people to get the food that they need to perform adequately in life and to succeed in college especially,” Adelson said. “Students need their food in order to get that brainpower to do well on exams. It’s something that students are struggling with and hopefully this food pantry will hopefully address that concern here at Stony Brook.”

One of the biggest challenges in making the Stony Brook food pantry happen was trying to find a space. “There’s not a lot of permanent space you can attain on campus because a lot of things are marked for future projects.” Adelson said.

The space in the ITS Center was offered by the Division of Campus Residences. “This was the space that was available at the time, and it turned out to be a great space,” McGuire said. “It’s large enough, it has staff and it’s, for the most part, locally accessible to most of our students.”

When the food pantry opens, student volunteers will play an active part. “Volunteers are key for us in regards to staffing the food pantry,” McGuire said. “We don’t have financial support in the way to pay students to house or to work the hours. They will provide the support and the volunteer hours to keep the doors open.”

McGuire also addressed the delicate situation of students confronting their needs and admitting them by coming to the pantry. “We want to be able to provide that need and to fulfill that need without someone being ashamed or embarrassed that they have that need,” she said.

As long as the need exists, organizers of the food pantry intend to stay open. “It is a need, and we look to fill the need, and if the need isn’t something that presents itself later on,” McGuire said, “we’ll be happy to close our doors.”

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