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The Mobile Food Pantry and Food Insecurity on Campus

By Sydney Nocerino

The Mobile Food Pantry Visits Purchase on December 1st for the fourth time this year (Photo by Sydney Nocerino)

Crowds gathered at the mobile food pantry on campus this semester, highlighting the growing student need and the college’s seemingly inadequate response to food insecurity. Students shared their experiences with the options of food they are provided or lack thereof.

“The amount of people that I hear on campus that can’t eat anything for insane so I think it’s incredibly important that all students have access to food,” said Analilian Rodriguez who used the mobile food pantry this semester. She talked about how her and her friends are in intense BFA programs where they are pulling all-nighters every day, and when they finally finish everywhere they can get food is closed.

“Me and my roommates are struggling financially to provide food,” said Rodriguez. “We live in an apartment so we don’t have a meal plan and we need to purchase stuff so it’s just really nice to go out and engage with people at the food pantry and pick up things that we need.”

Purchase partners with Westchester County Food Bank for this event that happened at the beginning of each month, in the Central 1 Parking lot near Starbucks during the fall 2021 semester. Here they provide fresh fruit, vegetables, and other foods to members of the Purchase community. An estimated 4,000-5,000 pounds of free food was available to pick up.

Bernardo Manzolillo, a freshman theatre and performance major, was also at the pantry due to hearing about it at orientation and reminding himself every month to go. Despite only being on campus for one semester, he saw how important it is for the school to have this. “I think as students we already pay a lot for our meal plans so we don’t necessarily have money for groceries and stuff but I think it’s important for us to have food in our own room.”

While this is a positive development, students like Jenna Karnatski, a junior arts management major, shared her displeasure with getting meat that was expired from the food pantry. “I was so happy they were doing this for people struggling with the food here, but it (getting expired meat) sucked.”

Dilenny Diaz the food pantry supervisor said that the usable food left from the pantry is brought to the on-campus food pantry that was always open and available during the semester. No appointments are needed and they emphasize student confidentiality so anyone can pick up anything they need with no other pressure.

This pantry was officially started in the spring semester of 2020 due to the announcement in Aug 2018 by former Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo that all New York public universities would provide free food access to students.

Jess Damour, the resident coordinator of Alumni Village worked with the food pantry recently in the summer of 2021, in the Learning Center in the library. “I think this is a vital service for colleges to provide for their students. Having access to a safe, stigma-free space on campus is integral. It gives students a safety net and access to healthy food options,” said Damour.

While this is on campus, a lot of students don’t know about it. Sean Gordon, a senior theatre and performance major said, “Yeah I know about it but I think that’s only because I’m an RA because I never hear people talking about it. And I don’t even know where it’s located anymore.”

As an RA, Gordon has seen first-hand what students go through and how they try to combat what is given to them when it comes to food options. “Some underclassmen have to fight their way into an apartment just so that they can have the option to buy groceries and cook to sustain their diet.”

A college student’s diet has always been talked about in terms of not being healthy and ultimately damaging. According to a study from the Malaysian Journal of medical sciences, about 33 percent of university students consume less than 3 meals a day than the desired amount.

“Oh, I am one of those students I can tell you that much,” said Gordon while he laughed.

When it comes to meal plans, there’s a lot of discrepancies students feel when looking at the other options. The school policy is that if you live in a dorm, you must have some sort of meal plan; but then they are extremely expensive. Gordon talked about an international student he knew who was already struggling with the financial impact of living in a foreign country so he bought the least expensive meal plan which ran out in the first three weeks.

Patrick Savolskis, the director of the Purchase College Association which handles the auxiliary services for the college, explained how the meal plan prices were calculated through many different factors. This includes dining workers and their union contract, the cost of product, debt they borrowed to make improvements on campus, etc.

For the 19 meal plus plan for example, a student will get 19 a meals a week for $6.50 each, plus additional “flex” dollars that adds up to about $2000 when they are actually pay $2700 for a meal plan every semester.

When asked if these factors were the reason why there are cost differentials of how much meals are each, versus how much students actually pay, Savolskis explained that it was because the prices are built on covering all costs of the program. Thus, looking at all meal plans as a package, rather than individually how much students pay for each. They were also created with the intention in mind that all meals would be used for the dining hall, so the $6.50 per meal in other locations wasn’t considered when creating a price for students.

“Generally, I think we do a good job in setting up the plans but there is always room for improvements,” said Savolskis.

Those possible improvements have been suggested by students in conversations they have every day.

“The whole system kind of blows” said Gordon, “but that’s college for you.”

For students who do rely on the mobile food pantry, Diaz confirmed that the pantry will be back next semester, beginning February of next year.



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