Stony Brook Unites to Open Food Pantry
Through a confluence of efforts on both sides of campus, the SBU Food Pantry opened its doors last week to students and others in the University community. A joint project of the Division of Campus Residences and the School of Health Technology and Management (SHTM), the SBU Food Pantry aims to combat food insecurity on campus through the distribution of nourishing food and — more importantly — to keep students in school.
“What I’d like is for us to make whatever difference we can to prevent any student from having to choose between textbooks and food,” says Casey McGloin from SHTM and Stony Brook’s Program in Public Health, who is one of the food pantry’s co-founders. “There have been reports about students who receive Pell Grants who never finish college. Whatever we can do to prevent that from happening would be great.”
On east campus, Casey got involved with the project — the brainchild of Dr. Carlos Vidal — through the Public Health program. Dr. Vidal, Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Development in SHTM and a professor in the Health Sciences program, had been concerned for some time about the need for supplemental food on campus from his own experiences teaching. Students sometimes came up to him after class and asked if they could have the fruit or granola bar he’d brought in for his own snack. After watching a news report on Oregon State University’s food pantry, he started thinking about establishing one like it at Stony Brook.
“We found that this idea had interest on the part of other members of our university,” Dr. Vidal says. “We have a very benevolent community here. Our students raise money for areas targeted by hurricanes, but they are often struggling to finance their education. Food is sort of flying under the radar.”
“Thirty-six percent of the undergraduate population at SB is Pell grant-eligible,” says Casey. “Student Health Services had been aware of a food insecurity problem on campus for several years. The nurses have had students come in complaining of lightheadedness. After questioning them, it becomes apparent that they’re not getting enough food.”
Along with student volunteers she recruited to be on her committee, Casey conducted a pilot survey during Earthstock. She asked 156 people if they or someone they knew — a friend, student or colleague — had experienced food insecurity on campus. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said yes.
At the same time, Beth McGuire of the Division of Campus Residences on west campus was also pursuing the idea of starting a food pantry. Her committee, the Civic Engagement Committee for Campus Residences, was recruiting students from the same organizations Casey was. The two learned about each other’s efforts and decided to join forces.
“There was an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about food pantries at other universities,” says Beth. “Here, we’ve dealt with students in need, students who come to RA programs or campus residence programs at the end of the year because they don’t have any meal points left or budget for food. The need presents itself when they really should have good nutrition, because they’re studying for finals.”
The first food pantry at a public university was established at Michigan State University in 1993. Oregon State, another campus-based food pantry leader, issued a guide to opening one. SB Food Pantry’s co-founders consulted both schools extensively. Before opening, they also spoke to Stony Brook’s nutritionist for guidance on providing the healthiest food possible.
“Since the pantry is only able to offer non-perishables, I recommended that they focus on stocking high quality food items that offer dietary fiber, protein and that could be easily turned into a wholesome meal with few other ingredients,” says Student Health Services Nutritionist Leah Holbrook. “Oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice and whole grain cereals were at the top of the list, along with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian protein sources such as peanut butter, beans, canned chicken and tuna. Pasta or brown rice can be combined with tomato sauce and beans for a high fiber, satisfying meal.” A list of preferred food items for donation can be found on the SB Food Pantry website.
“Hopefully, at some future point we can begin to serve other families in the larger community,” says Dr. Vidal. “My vision is that it starts here, but that there are opportunities for students to do service learning outside the university. We can become a focal point to help other communities.”
“My hope is that if there is a need, that we can help in that need, both with students, staff and faculty,” says Beth. “We would never want to turn away anyone from the community. There’s a misperception that if you’re in a university setting, you’re one of the ‘haves’ of our society. The fact that in some situations a person may need assistance is one of those assumptions that we’ll need to educate people about.”
“I wish this wasn’t a need on campus, but as long as it is, we would hope to alleviate food insecurity to our best ability,” Casey adds. “If one day there’s no longer a problem on campus, we’ll be more than happy to close our doors.”
Senior Meghan Paquette, vice president of the National Residence Hall Honorary and a Resident Assistant, was one of the students involved in starting the food pantry. “The most valuable thing I’ve learned is not to judge. Don’t think every college student is the same. Just because someone’s living on campus and has a meal plan doesn’t mean that when they go home they’re not concerned."
"No one should be stressed about food," Meghan said. "They’re already stressed about classes and they’re probably working, so support everybody, because you never know how hard they’re working behind the scenes. They may put on a brave face, but they may be doing a thousand things behind the scenes.”
To volunteer at the SB Food Pantry or to make a donation, visit the website.
More information is available at CUFBA, the College and University Food Bank Alliance, of which the University is now a member.
By Toby Speed