Task force to develop plan for on-campus food pantry

Students and faculty proposing plan in November

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A new student and faculty group is developing plans for an on-campus food pantry to combat food insecurity. 

The UB Food Pantry Task Force, created by Vice President Scott Weber in August, plans to present administrators with options for an on-campus food pantry in November, with construction of the facility set to begin in January. 

A 2016 report from the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness found that 48 percent of respondents reported food insecurity in the last 30 days [before taking the survey] and 22 percent had low enough levels of food security to qualify them as hungry. 

Task force chair Sherri Darrow said Weber created the group in response to SUNY-wide and campus input. In February, Sub-Board I, a non-profit corporation owned by the seven student governments, sent a proposal to Student Life to create a university-funded, on-campus food pantry.

According to Darrow, director of Health Promotion, the 11-person group is charged with understanding the extent of students’ food insecurities on all three of UB’s campuses and making recommendations on the model, location and operations of a sustainable food pantry or pantries to meet students’ needs. 

Darrow said the cost of the pantry is unknown until a plan is finalized. She said the group is still working on options for funding its food solutions, including philanthropy and donations. 

The task force will follow recommendations developed through the SUNY Food Insecurity Task Force established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March as a part of his “No Student Goes Hungry Program.” The task force will also be informed by the current master plans being developed for the UB Student Unions and wellness center.

“The committee will present options for increasing access to food for UB students and our recommendations will take into account the needs of undergrad, grad, professional students on all three campuses, recognizing the diverse food habits and needs of our culturally diverse students,” Darrow said. “We will also have an eye toward innovative solutions and multiple options, since options for North Campus might be different than options for South Campus.  We will address how to minimize any possible stigma related to food insecurity and we will include a plan to sustain the effort into the future.”

Graduate Student Association President Jessica Coley said the issue of food insecurity goes hand-in-hand with UB’s low graduate student stipends. She isn’t on the task force, but said many graduate students have experienced food insecurity, so she’s happy that change is on the way. 

“It’s a step in the right direction because grad students –– and not just the ones that are TAs and GAs –– we’re already not paid a living stipend and we have to manage our money so that it lasts us throughout the times when we’re not in school,” Coley said. “Sometimes it’s harder for people to get jobs [while in school] so they have food insecurities and they’re not sure where their next meal is going to come from."

But, she’s skeptical of the timeline. 

“I just want to make sure that it happens,” Coley said. “I feel like it’s easy for them to say that they’re doing something and then maybe it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Task force member Jennifer Schechter, a graduate student in the linguistics department and SBI president, said many factors about the pantry are still unknown. The group is working on location, the kinds of foods it offers and hours of operation.

“Non-perishables may be the easiest way to start because we don’t have to worry about things spoiling, but then where do we put it? Where is it most accessible? Do we make it like a store or a delivery service?” Schechter said. “And then maybe a token system so that students could get hot meals, especially in the winter time. Most importantly, we want to make sure it’s sustainable.” 

Schechter said she hopes students, staff and faculty members will help build up the pantry by donating food to their fellow students. Whether it’s bringing in a bag of canned goods for extra credit or a Greek Life organization completing community service hours, she wants to see students helping others. 

“Students really want to help their fellow students,” Schechter said. “Especially with SA and GSA, a lot of our past food drives have been really successful and students have donated a ton of food. I think if students are willing to help groups in Buffalo, they can certainly help their classmates.”

Darrow said the task force’s immediate plans include providing free fruit as part of the “Snacking Tuesdays” event, which provides free snacks in Wellness Suite 114 in the Student Union, free and low cost farm share crops, cooking classes and group dinners. 

The group also met with the Presbytery of Western New York’s pantry coordinator to identify current procedures and future collaboration to extend services to UB students. The group met with small groups of students to ascertain student needs and to ascertain what would help support their ongoing access to food.

The task force’s future initiatives include work with Blackstone LaunchPad to create innovative ways to meet students’ food needs and working with the assessment services office to run student focus groups. Students will have the opportunity to collaborate with faculty who conduct community food insecurity research and identify practices that could enhance a UB model for students' access to food. 

Max Kalnitz is the senior news editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.com

@Max_Kalnitz