November 6, 2019
Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) has received more than $119,000 in funding from the New York City Council to further support students facing food insecurity issues and hunger. The funds, part of a larger allocation of resources to the City University of New York system, were used to identify and provide nearly 300 BMCC students with up to $400 each in monthly food vouchers each for an entire semester. Students eligible for the voucher program were selected earlier in the semester by CUNY.
The voucher program is being administered by the Single Stop Office which is home to the Panther (food) pantry as well as other resources designed to help all BMCC students who are facing food insecurity
As of the end of June 2019, the Panther Pantry, which opened in April 2018, had served more than 1,000 BMCC students.
Each of those students was facing a food emergency when they visited the Single Stop Office. After meeting with a staff member who accessed their needs, the students were able to take home a three-day supply of nutritionally balanced, nonperishable food for up to three family members.
“Worrying about food places tremendous emotional stress on a student,” said BMCC Single Stop Director Deborah Harte. “Retention rates are impacted by food insecurity. If you are hungry on a consistent basis, you don’t function as well.”
She said the problem of food insecurity is widespread and that many students are stretching their money as far as they can. According to a Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice survey, 45 percent of the nation’s community college students experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days.
Single Stop staff also work to connect students facing food insecurity to more sustainable sources, primarily the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The office also connects some students to the BMCC Center for Career Development, or in some cases, to an attorney that can help them apply for Social Security benefits as well as other government resources.
“The pantry is just one aspect in addressing food insecurity,” said Harte. “The ultimate goal is to help them develop a sustainable plan while they are in school.”
Harte says support for the Pantry has been immense and has raised awareness about students who are food insecure. Funding for the pantry has come from the Petrie Foundation, the BMCC Foundation as well as a number of individual donors.
“We’ve been blessed,” said Harte.
She said the greatest challenge for the pantry has been space. With more space, the core concept of the pantry could be expanded and frozen food as well as fresh produce could potentially be added.
“Running a food pantry is complex,” said Harte. “There are specific requirements that are set by the Food Bank of New York, the organization that provides guidelines and monitors the specs for any pantry build out.”
BMCC Liberal Arts major Suzette, who would rather not share her last name, first heard about the pantry and other food resources when she visited the Single Stop office to get help applying for health insurance. A single mother in her late thirties, she says the stress of attending school while raising a child has been tremendous.
“It’s not that you don’t want to work, you want to earn your degree so you can get a job that pays enough to support a child,” said Suzette. “As a mother, you don’t want your child to lack of anything.”
She said knowing Single Stop is there, provides a sense of relief.
“I was one of those students who didn’t know about the pantry,” said Suzette. “You need food so your brain will function properly.”
Students who are facing problems with food insecurity should visit the Single Stop office in Room S-230 at 199 Chambers Street.