On-campus food pantry proposal to tackle food insecurity at UB

SBI proposes creation of on-campus food pantry to Student Life


UB students are partnering with Student Life to create an on-campus food pantry, after a National College Health Assessment report showed 25 percent of UB students experience some degree of food insecurity.

Sub-Board I, a non-profit corporation owned by the seven student governments, sent a proposal to Student Life on Feb. 25 to create a university-funded, on-campus food pantry. While the initial budget proposal of the pantry indicates an annual cost of $25,000, SBI officials said it will become self-sustainable in regard to food costs. A. Scott Weber, vice president for Student Life, said in an email he looks forward to meeting with students to understand how best to meet the need and to decide on an implementation timeline.The Sub-Board is working with the Food Bank of Western New York to potentially open the food bank to the public, and not just UB ID-holders.

Kyle Murphy, SBI treasurer, has been working to create a partnership between SBI and Student Life to make the food-bank possible.

“Personally, I believe that previous UB administration did not address, and ultimately ignored, the food insecurity problem at UB. However, Dr. Weber has expressed his intent to support a student-led initiative to address food insecurity,” Murphy said in an email. “Dr. Weber now has an actionable proposal on his desk.”

The initial proposal to address food insecurity on campus was spearheaded by Janice Cochran, a registered dietitian at UB Wellness Education Services. Cochran said the NCHA report indicated an “urgent need” to address the issue of food insecurity at UB, which is often unseen or hidden, and has grown nationally.

The NCHA report showed 26 percent of participants worried their food would run out before they had money for more, and 27 percent cut the size of or skipped meals. The report also included information suggesting a link between food insecurity and lower grades.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has recently proposed a $1 million initiative to require all SUNY and CUNY schools to have an on-campus food pantry as part of his executive budget.

UB currently provides students with access to an off-campus food pantry through its partnership with the Presbytery of Western New York. However, some students have expressed concerns over accessibility to the South Campus location and lack of advertisement.

Tanja Aho, graduate student association president, said she has experienced first-hand how difficult it is to feed oneself as a graduate student at UB, and has heard too many stories of others being “desperately hungry.”

“As an international grad student who was not allowed to work off-campus, summers were especially difficult. I barely had enough money saved up for rent, but at least I didn't have to pack up all of my belongings and move back home for three months like many of my international colleagues,” Aho said. “But in return, I chose not to eat. I would lose over 20 pounds each summer.”

Until Aho began advocating for students with food insecurity last summer, she said she did not know the off-campus food pantry existed. She said she feels it is so rarely advertised that most students do not know about it either.

Murphy said students have also expressed their discomfort over entering a food pantry operated by a religious institution that they are not a member of.

“Creating a stigma-free food pantry is our primary objective, and Sub-Board will take the appropriate action to make sure that all students feel comfortable in regularly accessing the food pantry,” Murphy said.

Aho said a student-led, university-funded, on-campus food pantry is a step in the right direction, but not enough to make the problem of food insecurity go away.

“Of course a food pantry is only a temporary fix for the real issue: graduate students need to be paid a living wage,” she said. “But as long as the university refuses to do what is right and what would make us competitive, graduate students go hungry, and the least we can do is feed them. And feed all of the other UB community members –– undergraduate students, staff, and visitors –– who also experience food insecurity on a weekly basis.”

Anna Savchenko is an assistant news editor and can be reached at anna.savchenko@ubspectrum.com.