Caring Approach to Student Needs Garners SUNY Award

side-by-side photos show a young woman helping a young man try on a business jacket; and shelves of canned goods
Purple Threads, left, a clothing closet featuring gently used professional garments, and the Purple Pantry, an on-campus food pantry, are two of the programs run by UAlbany Cares.

ALBANY, N.Y.  (Nov. 9, 2021) — A three-pronged program to assist students facing food and financial insecurity has been awarded a SUNY Outstanding Student Affairs Program Award for 2021.

The program, UAlbany Cares, takes a broad approach to addressing student needs through a food pantry, a free professional clothing closet and an emergency grant fund.

The Purple Pantry is an on-campus food pantry that serves all members of the University community. Purple Threads offers free, gently used business and professional clothing for current students who may need them for interviews, jobs and internships. The Student Emergency Fund offers quick-turnaround microgrants to help with unforeseen financial problems that could cause students to leave school.

“Now, more than ever, efforts to raise funds to support the success of our students is imperative,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Christakis. “Students who have their basic needs met tend to thrive personally and academically. A holistic approach to fundraising to support these basic needs through the UAlbany Cares program has helped many of our students keep their college dreams alive.” 

UAlbany Cares is run through the Dean of Students Office and was created by the Division of Student Affairs in partnership with the Office of University Advancement. The two bodies ramped up fundraising and outreach at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, to address increased need.  

“The UAlbany Cares program represents a remarkable collaboration with our partners in the Division of Student Affairs, borne out by the critical need to address financial, food and housing insecurities our students are increasingly facing,” said Fardin Sanai, Vice President for Advancement.

From its inception through September 2021, the Student Emergency Fund received approximately $617,000 in donations from individual, corporate and foundation partners, with the bulk of that coming in during the pandemic. As of early October, the Student Emergency Fund had made 1,036 individual awards totaling over $679,700 to undergraduate and graduate students. 

Since May 2019, the Purple Pantry has served 54,900 meals to 1,630 unique clients and provided 19,500 days’ worth of food. When the pandemic made in-person visits unsafe, the pantry switched to online ordering and contactless pickup.

The Purple Threads professional clothing closet has taken in thousands of clothing donations since opening in early 2019, and more than 550 students have received more than 1,500 articles of clothing.

Cindy Riggi, Lisa Gonzalez and Sally D'Alessandro accepted the SUNY Outstanding Student Affairs Program Awards award on behalf of the University at a virtual ceremony held Oct. 29. UAlbany Cares won in the category for Administrative, Assessment, Information Technology, Fundraising and Professional Development.

UAlbany Cares also won a Gold Award from the 2021 NASPA Excellence Awards, in the Alumni, Community Relations, Family Programs, Fundraising category.