Joining Hands to Fight Hunger

St. Vincent de Paul food pantry can buy food at a low cost, so prefers monetary donations or items like toiletries, diapers and paper products. (Photo, courtesy of St. Vincent de Paul)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 4, 2016) – A new collaborative partnership is being developed among the University at Albany, the Albany chapter of United University Professions and St. Vincent de Paul food pantry.

The idea is for the University and the union to support the pantry through fund-raising, while getting the word out to UAlbany students, faculty and staff that the pantry is available to them if they need it.

St. Vincent de Paul’s, at 984 Madison Ave., is the food pantry closest to campus and the Pine Hills neighborhood where many off-campus students live.

Food insecurity on campuses is a growing problem nationwide as the cost of college continues to rise and student debts mount. There are an estimated 300 food pantries on U.S. college campuses, according to a recent report on NPR.

Interim Provost Darrell Wheeler said, “The food pantry collaboration shows that when the University at Albany marshals its resources, we can accomplish great things in the community. Efforts such as these are not only the 'right' thing to do, but essential for a public university.”

Vice President for Finance and Administration James Van Voorst initiated the talks among the University, the union, University Auxiliary Services (UAS), Sodexo and the pantry. 

"Through this initiative, the University is strengthening its ties to the local community while expanding volunteer opportunities for our students, faculty and staff," Van Voorst said. 

Luke Rumsey, assistant director of Neighborhood Life, chairs the campus committee on the food pantry initiative.

“As long as one student is food insecure, we have a responsibility as an institution to reach out to that student and make sure they have what they need to succeed,” he said.

UAlbany and UUP will develop fund-raising and volunteer efforts to support the pantry, which offers fresh produce, meat and dairy in addition to canned goods. UUP raised $1,000 for the pantry at its General Membership barbecue in September.

Preliminary plans are being made to give students the opportunity to be involved with the pantry either through volunteer work or an internship. UUP’s food pantry committee is looking at additional ways for UUP members to contribute. At the University’s holiday gala, for example, toiletries and paper products will be collected for the pantry.

UAS Executive Director Stephen Pearse said, "UAS is very committed to the effort of supporting a facility that can help our campus community." He added that UAS raised funds in conjunction with Sodexo for the pantry in the spring via a "Stop Hunger Night." The event raised $3,491.84, all of which was contributed to St. Vincent de Paul's food pantry.  

Angela Warner, director of the pantry, said, “Our pantry is a resource for our hungry neighbors including working adults, families, senior citizens and students. The pantry is able to provide up to four days’ worth of food per month to our guests.”

To get the word out to UAlbany’s off-campus students, Neighborhood Life’s Off-Campus Ambassador team, members of the UAlbany Greek community and officers from the Albany Police Department distributed information on the food pantry as part of a guide on off-campus living to homes in the Pine Hills and Beverwyck neighborhoods during the early part of the fall semester.

The next step in the initiative is to spread the word to on-campus students the week of Nov. 7 that the pantry is available to them as well. While faculty, especially contingent faculty and staff in the catchment area may also use the pantry, those who reside outside the area will be referred to a pantry closer to where they live.

The idea for the pantry began over a year ago when UUP, citing this nationwide trend and the rising cost of higher education, advocated for the University to open a pantry on campus in the old UUP office in the Lecture Center sub-basement.

The University decided a better option would be to partner with St. Vincent de Paul, because the pantry has been operating for 33 years and is already equipped to offer a greater variety of foods, including meat, dairy, fresh produce and fresh bread.

“UUP is excited to be participating in this partnership,” said Bret Benjamin, president of the Albany chapter of UUP. “Anything we can do to help provide access to one of life's basic necessities is a step in the right direction.”

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany-SUNY offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, businesseducation, public health,health sciences, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare and sociology, taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.