Unclear Impact on St. Vincent Partnership from Cuomo’s Food Pantry Proposal
The University at Albany remains uncertain how its partnership with a Pines Hills food pantry would work under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ask to combat hunger on state campuses.
All SUNY and CUNY schools under legislation in the governor’s budget proposal are required to have an on-campus food pantry or provide delivery and distribution services from an outside food bank.
UAlbany, which partners with St. Vincent de Paul’s food pantry, currently doesn’t have such services. The university is assessing how, if at all, the governor’s proposal would impact the program.
Details outlining which entity would pay for the food insecurity initiative weren’t mentioned in the governor’s proposal. Cuomo requested $1 million from the legislature to fund the program.
This has sprung some higher education activists to question if public colleges and universities would fund it.
“That places additional pressure on SUNY and CUNY who are already having to cover the difference between the maximum TAP award and tuition costs for people who qualify for full TAP awards,” said Megan Ahearn, program director for the New York State Public Interest Research Group.
The SUNY Student Assembly expressed similar concerns over the initiative as an unfunded mandate during an executive committee meeting at Onondaga Community College.
For UAlbany administration, it’s too early for judge how the program could impact campus operations until the final budget rolls out. The state’s 2018-19 spending plan is due April 1.
“The University is supportive of the governor’s focus on food insecurity among students at all levels, and we’re still assessing how the partnership we currently have with St. Vincent de Paul fits in with what Gov. Cuomo has proposed,” said Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, director of Media & Community Relations, in an email.
“But until we see the final budget language, which is likely a couple of months off, we would just be speculating.”
Any potential changes would occur within the university’s third year in partnership with St. Vincent. The program developed in 2016 between the parish and UAlbany’s United University Professions chapter.
Since then, the university provides information about the Pine Hills food pantry during orientation programs and through marketing material.
Additionally, UAlbany has organized various fundraisers and donations for St. Vincent. Currently, university groups seek to raise $10,000 by April. It would be divided between the food pantry and the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
For Angela Warner, director of the pantry, it’s likely UAlbany students still struggle with food insecurity on and off campus despite the partnership. While the number of those served at St. Vincent has increased in recent years, she believes stigma may retract some food-insecure community members from stopping by.
“From time to time, we do have people who come in and they’re like, ‘Well, I never had to do this before, what do I need to do?’” she said. “You could tell that they’re embarrassed.”
Amanda Demma in a failed University Council run last fall campaigned on ending food insecurity, a struggle she’s faced living off campus.
Long hours working and living expenses in Aspen Heights pushed her to eat infrequently.
“Sometimes when you need to save up, a box of pasta can get you a long way rather than anything else,” she said.
Demma believes St. Vincent’s location, less than three miles from the uptown campus, hinders student accessibility. There should be an on-campus food pantry, she said.
University officials mulled over opening an on-campus food pantry in years past. Using St. Vincent’s resources and infrastructure made more sense, said Mike Nolan, UAlbany communications specialist.
“Rather than duplicate the work of St. Vincent de Paul, the University opted to try to enhance it by partnering with an organization already doing the work on the ground,” said Nolan in a statement.