The Binghamton University Food Pantry is working to reduce food insecurity on campus.
Food insecurity, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods,” remains a problem affecting college students, according to a report from Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities. Statistics show that nearly 30 percent of students at four-year institutions report experiencing food insecurity at some point during their college careers.
On its website, the BU Food Pantry describes itself as a “temporary, judgment-free” place for students grappling with hunger to turn to. Located on the second floor of the College-in-the-Woods (CIW) Dining Hall, the Food Pantry provides a range of both non-perishable and refrigerated food items for students in need. The pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Students looking to obtain groceries from the Food Pantry fill out an online form on its website and answer the questions that follow. The form lists the possible products that students can pick from several categories, such as canned vegetables, frozen meals, beans and hygiene or household items.
Within the past year, the Food Pantry has seen a record number of students utilize their services. Derek Tepe, the graduate manager for the Food Pantry and a second-year graduate student pursuing a masters degree in sustainable communities, described the cause behind the increase in Food Pantry users as multifold, beginning with inflation.
“Food products are generally more expensive, and if you’re on a budget it’s very hard to afford a lot of things, so we provide supplementary support for that,” Tepe said. “But also, we think that word of mouth about our services is spreading because again we are relatively new in the grand scheme of institutions on [the University’s] campus. And so, it’s not a surprise that in the first couple of years of our existence every semester sees a measurable increase of usage.”
The Food Pantry turns to a variety of organizations for its supply of grocery products. Matthew Pangburn, a supervisor at the Food Pantry and a senior double-majoring in political science and history, explained some of the ways the Food Pantry obtains resources.
“We receive our inventory from multiple sources,” Pangburn said. “Two of our biggest include the Broome County Council of Churches’ Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW), as well as the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. These food banks supplement the majority of our inventory while we also receive donations from a multitude of organizations and businesses both on- and off-campus. We also may get food from Sodexo and generous donations from our student body, faculty, staff, alumni and more.”
Students and student-run organizations can support the Food Pantry’s mission in many ways, including through making their own donations and hosting drives in support, according to Pangburn.
In addition to donating, several students contribute to the Food Pantry through volunteering. Luke Savinetti, an intern at the Food Pantry and a junior double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law, talked about his responsibilities at the Food Pantry.
“As interns, we do the work of fulfilling orders for the Food Pantry, processing the orders of food that comes in and organizing them so that we can fulfill the needs of the students on campus,” Savinetti said. “We receive food from different places like any grocery store, and we just work so we don’t have to function like a grocery and we can provide people with food in a way that works really efficiently for everybody. ”
Ava Cardillo, a junior double-majoring in English and philosophy, politics and law, explained how food accessibility and awareness can be improved on campus and described a collaborative, semester-long internship project.
“One thing that we’re doing is a survey where we’re asking regular users of the pantry ‘what do they need more of’ to try to get more stuff that people will definitely need,” Cardillo said. “Another thing is that on campus, the school doesn’t require people to put the pantry on syllabi, so not all students know about it. Just having more outreach on campus from campus officials, professors and faculty, I think, is just a great thing to do.”