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Cuomo-mandated food pantry coming to UAlbany

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Starting May 29, UAlbany will open its first on-campus food pantry for students.

Student Affairs plans to stock a room on the third floor of the Campus Center, near Purple Threads and the ASP, with non-perishable foods next month. Eventually, they hope to offer fresh groceries.

UAlbany already has a partnership with St. Vincent’s Food Pantry, located on Madison Ave. The partnership began in 2016, allowing students on both the uptown and downtown campuses and in the Pine Hills area off-campus to receive food once a month. Available items include fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, non-perishables, and toiletries.

“The university would provide them with volunteers, and we would do some food drives, we would help raise some funds for them, and in exchange they would open their doors to our students,” said Luke Rumsey, Asst. Director of Student Affairs.

“We saw a high uptick in students that were utilizing the pantry, which is good because we wanted to make sure that students were receiving that resource if they needed it.”

But St. Vincent’s has limited distribution hours, making it difficult for students on a class schedule to access it. In July 2018, Student Affairs launched a delivery/distribution program where food from the pantry would be delivered to the uptown campus.

“As opposed to going to the pantry to pick up the food we would bring it to Empire Commons in the community building twice a month,” said Rumsey. “We saw the program take off, again we launched it in July 2018, and to-date we have had over 400 unique students utilize that program.”

Gov. Cuomo mandated in January 2018 that all SUNY and CUNY campuses must have an on-campus pantry or a stigma-free food accessible option. Until now, UAlbany has fallen under that second category.

An assessment conducted by the Food Insecurity Task Force in Fall 2018 found that UAlbany satisfied the mandate’s requirements. However, the new on-campus pantry aims to be an easier option for students to access.

The new food pantry is made possible through a $50,000 grant. the Kresge Foundation’s Collaborative Opportunity Grant, administered through the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities (APLU)

“It’s a pretty intensive grant process,” said Sally D’Alessandro, Director of Student CARE Services. “They require us to come up with a business plan, and we have a lot of work to do to make sure that this is sustainable beyond the $50,000 grant.”

That sustainability will be driven through food donations and a membership with the Regional Food Bank.

“We’re going to be using RSSW students who are working for credit to help staff it. We’ll also be utilizing MSW (Masters of Social Welfare) students doing their field work,” D’Alessandro added.

“We figure we’ll be open about 20 hours a week, and we’ll do it to keep with the class schedule – part day hours, part early evening hours just to make sure that we’re hitting enough times for students who may have classes. We’re also going to be open to any faculty or staff who may need to utilize it,” D’Alessandro explained. “I think we are going to see the convenience of this really serve our students well.”

A recent survey of over 1,800 UAlbany students residing in apartments on and off-campus revealed that 50 percent said they would use an on-campus food pantry. This is just above the national average of 48 percent.

About 1,780 days-worth of food (5,340 meals) has been brought to campus since the delivery/distribution program launched in July 2018. UAlbany will remain a partner with St. Vincent’s, and that option will still be available for students.

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