Five Years On, Stony Brook’s Food Pantry Nourishes and Sustains

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With food pantries now proposed as a requirement on all state- and city-run campuses, Stony Brook University’s food pantry heads proudly into its fifth year of feeding students struggling to balance the cost of an education and the need to eat.

And it’s students and the community at Stony Brook who make it all happen.

Food Pantry

A student volunteer stocks shelves at the Stony Brook University Food Pantry.

“Our pantry is entirely student-run. Our full community comes together to support it,” said Richard Sigal, co-director of the Stony Brook food pantry. “We really strive to build a relationship with those who visit so that they feel welcome.”

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said that he plans to introduce legislation requiring all campuses in the state and city systems to create food pantries to give hungry students access to food.

The “No Student Goes Hungry” program would give “students of all ages, backgrounds and financial situations access to healthy, locally sourced meals from kindergarten through college,” Cuomo said.

But the statewide effort to help struggling college students stay nourished is nothing new to Stony Brook, which opened its pantry in September of 2013.

“The perception is of college students that if you are able to go to college and you have an opportunity to go to college, you’re part of the haves of this country, not part of the have-nots,” said pantry co-founder Beth McGuire more than four years ago.

“How can someone who’s in college be someone who has a need like food?”

Since opening, the pantry has served healthy food to about 4,100 patrons, averaging about 15-20 patrons a week.  Of those, about 75 percent are undergraduate students.

Currently about half of the state’s public universities have food banks, Cuomo’s office said. The higher education component of the plan, funded with $1 million from the state, would require each CUNY or SUNY institution to open food pantries on campus or arrange with an outside food bank for delivery and distribution of food to students.

The growing number of university food pantries in the country — found mostly at public universities and community colleges — serve students at well-known institutions such as Michigan State University, the University of Missouri and Syracuse.

When the doors first opened to the pantry at Stony Brook, Long Island’s largest research university, more than 50 students were waiting for help.

Food banks like this one not only feed a population in need, organizers say, but empower students by giving them an opportunity to help their peers through donation and service. And the Stony Book pantry is open to faculty and staff at the university as well, unlike most campus pantries across the country.

At Stony Brook, you only need to show a university ID to gain access to the pantry, Sigal said.

The basement room in the Information Technologies Study Center at Grey College where the food pantry is housed opens 10 hours a week and is looking to expand those hours. It is stocked with nutritious food, including Cheerios, cans of tuna, organic tomato sauce, fruit and vegetables. In fact, the Stony Brook pantry, founded by students with $5,000 in donated food items, collects more than 10,000 food items per year.

Today many people donate produce or money directly to the pantry, including student groups and campus offices which run food drives for the pantry, such as Students for Humanity and the Faculty Student Association. You can find a list of desired donation items on the pantry’s website

The pantry strives to promote healthy living through nutritious eating and is hoping to provide cooking classes in the future.

“Our ultimate goal is to decrease the usage of the pantry,” Sigal said. “But we want to make sure for now that everyone who needs it has access to it. That’s our priority.”

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