Alpha Phi Omega’s third annual food pantry on Sunday March 30 revealed a series of improvements and expansions. What began as a collaboration with Wegmans and Foodlink to provide food for impoverished people living in Livingston County has grown into “End Hunger Day,” an all-day event including an information fair, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Benefits fair and New York State Health Insurance screening.
Senior APO member Sherry Leung began the annual food pantry as a sophomore after discovering a lack of volunteer work with local families.
“One of the biggest needs I kept seeing as I did volunteer work was families in need of basic things like food,” Leung said.
She started the initiative to get a $500 donation from Wegmans, which they gave to Foodlink to buy about 3,000 pounds of wholesale groceries. Individuals who signed in were able to take home enough food to feed a family of four for about a week, free of charge.
Town Supervisor William Wadsworth inspired Leung to expand the program last year, when he asked what long-term change would accompany this short-term relief.
APO added an information fair to the food pantry this year, which had tables from various services such as day care centers, social services, disability services and Catholic Charities.
They also had a SNAP Benefits fair, where attendees had the option of bringing personal information and going through screening to see if they could qualify for benefits. They could receive help filling out applications and see if their current financial status qualified them for more benefits than they currently receive.
According to Leung, the fair “provides for communication between potential SNAP recipients and SNAP.”
NYS Health Insurance hosted a similar service where people could see what free health insurance they qualify for and receive help going through bureaucratic “red tape.”
Students interested in this cause can volunteer at the event, but there are other ways to get involved.
“I think a lot of it – even at the very, very basic level – is volunteering at a food pantry,” Leung said.
Leung pointed out that very few people know what SNAP benefits are or they have misconceptions about them. They hope to reconstruct the negative opinions some people have about those who utilize these benefits.
To better understand the struggle that many face even with SNAP benefits, about 10 members of APO tried grocery shopping on the amount of money individuals with SNAP benefits receive: $36.94 per week.
This year, the snowstorm interfered with many people’s transportation to the event, resulting in only about 100 people coming instead of several hundred as expected. APO workers compensated by personally driving food both Catholic Charities and the Senior Rehabilitation Center as well as individual families.
Lots of leftover food remains, however, and another food pantry is in the works to be held in two to three weeks at the United Methodist Church on Genesee Street.