Origins: Stony Brook University

The most common question we get from campuses looking to start up a pantry is “how did YOU get started?” We will be posting the ‘Origins’ series to share the tales of our member schools in their work supporting food insecure students.

How One Pantry Got Its Start

By Casey McGloin, MPH, Co-founder, Stony Brook University Food Pantry

As with other public universities, the food insecurity issue on Stony Brook’s campus was discovered in small doses by the faculty, staff, and students who were compassionate enough to notice the struggles of their colleagues and peers. A faculty member brought granola bars into class and marveled at how quickly they disappeared. A staff member received a call from a student who was wondering what to do when her meal plan ran out. A student asked a friend to use the friend’s meal card so that he could eat dinner that night. A staff member noticed that a co-worker was struggling financially. Members of the Stony Brook community  were having food insecurity interactions. A small series of conversations began, and they grew into larger series of conversations.

In 2011, an NBC story with Brian Williams highlighted efforts by some college campuses to establish food pantries in order to address food insecurity among students. In 2012, a Chronicle of Higher Education article did the same. These two stories, combined with the conversations in which we took part, led two people on opposite sides of our campus, myself and my co-founder Beth McGuire-Fredericks, to explore the idea of creating a food pantry at Stony Brook. We separately discussed the issue and the potential solution with groups of students and administrators, found out about one another, and combined efforts. I include this detail because it is evidence of the grassroots nature of campus food pantry establishment.

Over and over again, the groups of students and administrators with whom we met confirmed the need for services to address food insecurity on campus. We took a second look at the commonly accepted phenomenon of the “poor college student.” Since few data are available on the prevalence of food insecurity among college students, we combined comments from these meetings with statistics about our Pell-eligible student population  and data from an informal survey we distributed during a campus event to justifiy creating a campus food pantry at Stony Brook. We formed a committee of students and staff and set to work to figure out how the pantry should operate. We contacted the directors of other campus pantries, consulted with a nutritionist to determine the best foods to keep on our shelves (as we wanted to create a healthy food pantry), talked to administrators about space, planned food drives, and finalized many other details.

The most challenging tasks were finding a space for the pantry, and coming to terms with the fact that not everything would turn out as we hoped. By speaking with various administrators, we eventually found an underutilized space on campus we were permitted to re-purpose to house the pantry. As for things not turning out as planned, after our pantry’s opening day we realized our carefully planned intake system was inefficient and redesigned most of it over the course of a week to better suit the reality of our particular food-insecure population. We had planned to open a campus bank account before opening day, giving us the ability to accept tax-deductible monetary donations; however, we didn’t achieve that milestone until a year and a half later. For our first year and a half, we relied on a combination of food drives, grocery store gift card donations, and a small budget from a larger charitable donation campaign on campus to stock our shelves with healthy foods. Since we opened our doors in September 2013, we’ve continuously adapted to challenges as they arose.

The SBU Food Pantry has provided almost 2,000 bags of food to our pantry guests to date. At the start of our second spring semester in operation, we are still learning. So far our second year has had many similarities and many differences from our first year, which leads me to believe we will always be learning. Despite the youth of our establishment, we’ve been contacted for advice by other universities/colleges exploring the campus pantry possibility for themselves, and we’ve been contacted by a multitude of news organizations to report on the rapid growth of campus food pantries. The conversation is growing.

Want to share your campus’ ‘Origins’ story? Email us at cufbanational@gmail.com – put “Origins: for Clare” in the subject line.

Originally published by Clare Cady February 3, 2015

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