Approximately 2 million students nationwide struggle to purchase food, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), but at Binghamton University, the Bear Necessities Food Pantry is aiming to help with their nearly monthly produce giveaways.
The food pantry is a program created by BU’s Dean of Students office to try to combat food insecurity on campus. On Friday afternoon, the pantry distributed fresh produce, featuring mostly vegetables and a few fruits, on a first-come, first-serve basis, with students allowed to take up to two or three pieces of each. The only requirement was that the customers show their BU ID before entering the room.
Located in University Union room 102, students waiting for the event split in two lines sprawled out over the University Union lobby. Albert Zhang, a freshman majoring in accounting, said he was surprised by how large the crowd was when he came for the giveaway.
“I didn’t think this many people would come through for fresh fruit,” Zhang said.
Gerard Dempsey, a Bear Necessities Food Pantry employee and a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience, said the giveaway was not only about supplying food, but healthy food, which is not always a prominent part of college students’ diet.
“It gets people a free dose of nutrients, essentially,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey also said food insecurity is a crucial issue for college students in maintaining both their health and academic well-being, emphasizing how the food pantry and the produce giveaways they organize are important in combating it.
“If you’re hungry, you can’t focus, you can’t study,” Dempsey said. “That’s the thing about your hunger — not your grades, not your academics. When people come to school, they shouldn’t worry about where they’re getting their food from.”
Milton Chester, assistant dean for off-campus programs and services, helped direct and organize the event. He said the pantry’s giveaways have become more popular in recent years.
“Produce giveaways have been happening for about three or four years,” Chester said. “But the food pantry has been here since the ’90s. It wasn’t as established as it is now, but there was some form of it.”
Michael Seman, a warehouse supervisor of the Broome County Council of Churches, which contributed to the produce giveaway, talked about the low visibility of students in the issue of food insecurity in general.
“Not many people realize, though, that University students are affected by hunger as much as they are,” Seman said.
According to a 2018 study from the GAO, almost 2 million students who were potentially eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, did not report receiving benefits. The office also found that low income is the main factor for putting students at risk for food insecurity.
In addition to fresh produce, the food pantry normally supplies other basic necessities, such as packaged food and cleaning products, according to Dempsey.
“You can get food, you can get other basic necessities — Bear Necessities Food Pantry it’s called, like soap and shampoo, stuff like that,” Dempsey said. “So it covers all the basics that people need.”
The food pantry giveaway is not a one-time event. Rather, organizers hope to schedule at least one per semester.
“We’re gonna do one in November, then February, March and April,” Chester said. “And if we have extra money, maybe we’ll do something in the summer.”
The Bear Necessities Food Pantry is located in Nelson A. Rockefeller Collegiate Center room 168, and is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.