Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in his 2018 State of the State address that he wants every SUNY and CUNY campus to have a food pantry. Currently, 31 out of 64 SUNY campuses have pantries.
The SUNY Student Life Committee launched a Food Insecurity Task Force to investigate the issue in November.
The task force will be comprised of students, staff, faculty, food providers and philanthropic organizations, according to the resolution. It will also look to produce a systemwide analysis of food insecurity in SUNY schools to come up with more initiatives to combat it.
Marc Cohen, president of the SUNY Student Assembly, a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees and co-chair of the Food Insecurity Task Force, said that the SUNY Student Life Committee decided to create a task force dedicated to food insecurity because it’s a major issue for college students.
“One of the things we recognized was important was to focus on issues that directly impact the lives of students,” Cohen said. “Things that are addressed in the academic affairs committee, finance committee, communications committee, of course those affect a lot of students and of course those are important issues, but there wasn’t really a forum to discuss things like diversity, equity and inclusion or veterans issues, mental health and, of course, food insecurity.”
According to a 2016 national survey, 48 percent of college students had experienced food insecurity in the past month.
The survey interviewed over 3,500 students from eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges across the United States and found that housing or hunger problems negatively impacted 32 percent of students’ education.
Cohen said that while the task force’s makeup is still in the works, its main goals include making sure students have access to food and culturally appropriate food.
“Food insecurity is not just a matter of affording food,” Cohen said. “It’s not just a matter of underprivileged, low-income students. There are students coming from various cultures and may attend a school in something of a food desert where they just can’t find food that they need based on culture or ethnicity.”
In addition, the task force hopes to work with the city of Binghamton and the communities surrounding SUNY campuses.
“This isn’t just a campus issue,” Cohen said. “This is a community issue and we need to ensure that our on-campus students, off-campus students, commuter students are all able to learn and earn a world-class degree without having to choose between putting food on the table or buying a textbook.”
In 2016, one in seven individuals were at risk for hunger and 27,150 people were food insecure in Broome County, according to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. The county operates several food pantries including the Salvation Army and different Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse locations, but these options aren’t always accessible to students.
Qiana Watson, the head of Binghamton University’s Bear Necessities Food Pantry, wrote in an email that she’s glad to see SUNY taking the initiative to combat food insecurity.
“Food insecurity is something that impacts college students across the nation and in much higher rates than are reported,” Watson wrote. “This is truly exciting and fuels my desire to help those who find themselves in need.”
Cohen said another focus of the task force will be ensuring students don’t feel ashamed if they utilize food pantries or other initiatives created to decrease food insecurity.
“We need to figure out a way to ensure students are pursuing the resources they need while maintaining and promoting their dignity,” Cohen said. “We have to make the process of seeking out as seamless and dignified as possible.”