College community considers SUNY food insecurity initiative

SUNY launched its Food Insecurity Task Force on March 1. The effort supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “No Student Goes Hungry Program,” which provides students from kindergarten through college with access to nutritious, locally grown meals. 

The Food Insecurity Task Force is comprised of university administrators, food waste prevention experts, health professionals and others who will work toward developing resources such as food pantries on all SUNY campuses, according to the March 1 announcement of the initiative. 

Executive Director of Campus Auxiliary Services Mark Scott represents the auxiliary services corporations on the SUNY Food Insecurity Task Force and has contributed to its development. 

“Like any new program, you have to be sure not to paint everyone with the same brush,” Scott said. “For example, food insecurity at Monroe Community College may manifest differently than say it does at Geneseo. I think conceptually it’s a good thing to address food insecurity, but the question is what kind of solution delivery is best.”

The Food Insecurity Task Force will require all 64 SUNY schools to have representatives and other organizations including the Food Bank Association of New York State, University Faculty Senate and the SUNY Student Assembly will be represented on the task force as well.

Although the college does not have a food pantry on-campus, it has developed a relationship with a local food pantry that is available for students in need, Dean of Students and Director of the Center for Community Leonard Sancilio said. 

“What we have now is a relationship with the Geneseo-Groveland Food Pantry which is open to students,” Sancilio said. “While it’s not located on the campus, it’s located one block from Main Street. Over the past few years, from what we can tell, only one student has ever gone there to receive assistance.”

Campus administrators are in the process of studying the extent to which food insecurity affects Geneseo students, according to Scott. 

“Dealing with food insecurity can be a difficult thing to admit,” Scott said. “People sometimes think those things are embarrassing to have to bring to light. We hope by talking about it more we can facilitate and cultivate an environment where people are talking to us about their food insecurity concerns. If there are people in our community who are suffering, we need to do something about that.”

There are certain flaws in the way that Geneseo approaches food security, according to communication major junior Udeshi Seneviratne. Seneviratne and other international students have struggled to find food when dining halls close and bus service stops during breaks. 

“I have stayed here over break and I realized all the dining halls were closing so we had to take the bus in time before it stops working,” Seneviratne said. “I know a friend who had to go get food, but he didn’t have time before spring break to catch the bus so he had to walk all the way to Wegman’s and back.”

A problem like this one would be easy to solve as Geneseo and SUNY attempt to ameliorate food insecurity for students, Seneviratne said. 

“I think the biggest issue here is that the bus system shuts down really early, before the break actually starts,” Seneviratne said. “It makes a lot of sense because no one’s here to take the bus, but I think we should think about the international students . . . “The [International Student and Scholar Services] just asks everyone to fill out a form to say if they are staying over break, but they don’t provide many resources.”

The stigma associated with food insecurity is an issue student group Food Security Advocates is working to combat, according to English and communication double major senior Casey Vincelette. 

“During my time at FSA, I haven’t come across many Geneseo students who are food insecure—possibly because there is a mandatory meal plan for underclassmen,” Vincelette said. “Because of this, most of our outreach is geared toward food-insecure children in the Livingston County area … Food insecurity is so often stigmatized, and that’s something we try to bring awareness to through our outreach.”

Between the efforts made by the Food Insecurity Task Force, CAS and FSA, Geneseo is working toward lessening stigma surrounding food insecurity by providing resources for those in need.