September 20, 2022
The mission of Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) prioritizes efforts to remove barriers to student retention and graduation — and this means addressing food insecurity on campus.
The Panther Pantry in the BMCC Advocacy and Resource Center (ARC) distributed over 4,000 bags of food to about 1,800 students from July 2021 through June 2022, supported by donors including Feed the Frontlines, the Carol and Milton Petrie Foundation Food Access Program, the CUNY/New York City Council Food Access Program and the Department of Social Services/Human Resources Administration Community Food Connection.
In September 2022, Amazon launched its support of BMCC’s efforts to reduce food insecurity on campus by donating $100,000 to BMCC for non-perishable and fresh food.
In addition, Amazon donated an industrial refrigerator so that the BMCC Panther Pantry can stock more in-demand, cold products and pre-prepared sandwiches and salads from Amazon Go.
“Amazon’s donation will strengthen the great work BMCC is already doing within their robust on-campus food pantry,” said Ayesha Harper, director of Amazon Convenience, which includes Amazon Go stores and Amazon Kitchen food offerings. “Our prepared grab-and-go food items and wide variety of additional products will help BMCC add even more options to their pantry so that students in need have access to foods they want and enjoy.”
“You are not alone.”
The Panther Pantry at BMCC opened in 2018 and has provided a variety of food options for students: dry and canned goods, gluten-free foods, a variety of milk options including vegan, low fat and lactose-free milk, low- or sugar-free items, and frozen foods including ground beef, halal poultry, kosher fish, veggie burgers, vegetables, and fruits.
The Pantry also provides “snack packs,” ready-to-eat snacks and small meals to students on the go, or those living in the shelter system.
“A high priority of the Office of Student Affairs at BMCC is to let students know that if they are hungry, they are not alone,” says Marva Craig, BMCC Vice President for Student Affairs. “The Panther Pantry in the BMCC Advocacy and Resource Center provides nutritionally balanced snacks and meals for any student who needs it. We are able to do this with the support of sponsors including Amazon, which will provide shelf-stable food as well as fresh, healthy sandwiches on a regular basis to our college. Together, we are addressing food insecurity on campus, and creating an environment in which our students can succeed.”
On September 19, BMCC students gathered at the Panther Pantry to select a free lunch item provided by Amazon. Four students — Lizzy Acosta, Tuliea Puig, Jonique C. and Ann-Marie Santiago — shared their stories and have advice for other BMCC students facing a food emergency.
As they can attest, students sometimes skip meals to meet their weekly budgets. Also, they have found that eating healthy is a more expensive way to go. Food donated by Amazon and other donors makes eating health an option.
“Food insecurity is real. I see it every day on campus,” says Deborah Harte, Director of the BMCC Advocacy and Resource Center. “BMCC students are sometimes uncomfortable asking for help when they come to us at the Panther Pantry in the Advocacy and Resource Center, but we make sure they know we are on their side. The struggle to balance grocery, transportation and housing expenses in New York City can be tough, even for students who work, and no student should have to choose between paying for groceries and rent. I’m excited that Amazon Go has joined BMCC in working to stop student hunger. Our students work hard, and by removing food insecurity, we can help them be their best.”
Despite food insecurity, students strive to stay on track.
The Amazon launch of weekly deliveries to the BMCC Panther Pantry benefits students across many departments at the college. Four students have shared their academic and career goals, as well as their perspective on food insecurity.
Litzy Acosta, a Liberal Arts major set to graduate from BMCC in December 2022, plans to transfer to Baruch College, CUNY and major in journalism in Spring 2023.
“I love writing,” she says. “I write all the time. I also love to travel and connect with people — I want to write about neighborhood issues in other countries.”
Ms. Acosta grew up in Boston, moving to Harlem, New York City, when she was 10 years old. She spent a year in a homeless shelter with her family, and now lives with her family in public housing, earning income through a service agency for delivering homecare to her adult autistic brother.
Science major Tuliea Puig grew up in Harlem, where she lives as a single mom with the preschool-age son she gave birth to in high school, around the time her mother died.
“I want to be a neurosurgeon,” says Ms. Puig. “I have steady hands, and my accuracy and aim are on point. I love science and have personal reasons for choosing that field.”
Her mother, she explains, had neurological health issues and died during a brain operation. She was an M.D. herself, and worked in a hospital emergency department. Reeling from her loss, Ms. Puig still graduated on time from high school and entered BMCC in Spring 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the college switched to remote learning.
“I couldn’t learn that way,” she says. “I couldn’t manage it with my baby and I had to leave school for a while.” She returned to BMCC, starting class this fall.
Ann-Marie Santiago, who entered BMCC this fall, is a Nursing major. She grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where she lives with her parents and younger sister. Her goal is to enter a career as a pediatric nurse, inspired by her mother, who worked in senior care.
Digital Marketing major Jonique C. was born in Antigua, an island in the Caribbean, where she completed high school and earned a Liberal Arts diploma at Antigua State College. Next, she moved to New York to live with her aunt and cousin in the Bronx, and entered BMCC. She works at the retail chain store H&M, and is interested in a marketing career in the fashion industry.
Amazon-donated foods provide healthier options.
Ms. Puig says she appreciates the Panther Pantry and the food options provided by Amazon and other donors.
“It’s helping me. I can focus on other bills,” she says. “I’m frugal with my money and the Panther Pantry gives me healthier options. When you try to eat healthy, it seems like the unhealthy food is the cheapest. There have been times I had to let my son eat a healthy meal, and I didn’t have food for myself.”
Ms. Acosta says there are mornings when she foregoes her own breakfast, in order to focus on her brother’s medications and breakfast, and skips meals in order to make the family’s groceries last the week.
The students advise classmates in similar circumstances to visit the Panther Pantry and have a healthy meal that will sustain them throughout the school day.
Ms. C. reminds fellow students that in addition to food assistance, there are other services at the Advocacy and Resource Center, including staff who help students fill out the application for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or help them access WIC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. “They can even help you with housing and they have legal services,” she says.
Ms. Santiago’s advice to any student facing food insecurity is, “Worry about yourself and do what you have to do. Go to the Panther Pantry. If anyone gives you a weird look, it will come back to get them. The ones who aren’t humble, there will come a day when they need help, too.”
Ms. Acosta says that she chose BMCC because of the services available to her, and wants others to know that there is help is available on campus.
“I respect people’s boundaries,” she says, “but if I saw someone going hungry I would take them aside and ask them privately, ‘Is everything okay?’ I would tell them about the Panther Pantry.”
BMCC students facing a food emergency are encouraged to visit the Panther Pantry and take home free, pre-packed bags of nutritious, non-perishable food, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hot meals are distributed Thursdays from 1 to 2 p.m. Students can also email email@example.com and a staff person from the ARC office will send a link for them to sign up and RSVP for a time and date to come in. The Panther Pantry is in the Advocacy and Resource Center (ARC), 199 Chambers Street, Room S-230. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (212) 220-8195.
The Panther Pantry and Advocacy and Resource Center at BMCC support the BMCC Strategic Plan including Strategic Goal #5: Strengthen our culture of care for students, faculty and staff.
- Amazon has donated $100,000 worth of nutritionally balanced food for students facing a food emergency
- Donation includes prepared items from Amazon Go, including chicken Caesar wraps and salads, egg salad sandwiches and chicken Banh Mi sandwiches
- Amazon also donated an industrial refrigerator to help BMCC stock more in-demand cold products from Amazon Fresh including yogurt, fruit, vegetables and lean proteins