July 23, 2020
Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) has established a partnership with Feed the Frontlines NYC for a pilot program that is providing restaurant-quality meals to students facing food insecurity. The meals are delivered fresh and are available to students each Thursday beginning at 1 p.m. in Richard Harris Terrace at 199 Chambers Street. This is Feed the Frontlines NYC’s first partnership with a college or university.
The partnership was established under guidance from the Division of Student Affairs Vice President Marva Craig. Student Life Manager Deborah Harte has been overseeing the distribution of the food to students through the Single Stop office.
“Many of our students are experiencing hunger or food insecurity because they are unemployed, or have parents and other family members who are not working,” said Craig. “In addition, some of them are grieving loved ones lost to COVID-19, and coping with the loss of their support. Delivering hot meals for these students is a generous gesture, for which we are all extremely grateful.”
Feed the Frontlines NYC was founded on March 21 by restaurateur Luca Di Pietro and his family—founders of the Tarallucci e Vino restaurant group—with the dual mission of helping healthcare workers battling the pandemic in the city’s overwhelmed hospitals, while trying to keep the lights on and staff employed at as many local restaurants as possible.
“This was at a time when healthcare workers barely had time to think about feeding themselves as they were caring for COVID-19 patients,” said Isabella Di Pietro, Luca’s daughter. “But as the crisis in the hospitals thankfully subsided, we turned our attention to the growing number of New Yorkers facing food insecurity.”
Meeting a crisis head on
Since the pandemic decimated much of the city’s economy, the number of New Yorkers facing food insecurity has swollen from 1.2 million to an estimated 2 million people according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. That means roughly one in four New Yorkers—including a large swath of BMCC students— face food insecurity each day.
When Julie Appel, director of BMCC’s Project Impact, a program that provides support to justice-impacted students with educational programs and other services, learned about Feed the Frontline’s expanded mission, she reached out.
“Over the past few months, we’ve spent so much time sourcing food pantries and extra COVID emergency funds because many of our students aren’t working right now,” said Appel “One of our students is living in a home with nine other family members. She told me she hadn’t had protein in almost a week.”
A friend made the connection between Appel and Di Pietro and the two discussed ways BMCC students have been impacted by the pandemic’s economic fallout. Appel noted that many BMCC students either work themselves or have family members who are restaurant employees.
“When I learned from Julie that many BMCC students were facing food insecurity, we started to brainstorm about how we could join forces and offer some relief to some of them,” said Di Pietro. “Many students at the college work in retail businesses, including restaurants that have had to close or scale back because of the pandemic, taking away a steady paycheck that helps them support themselves and their families.”
Appel along with Craig, Interim Provost Erwin Wong and Assistant Dean for Academic Support Services Janice Zummo then had a more formal meeting with Luca Di Pietro and Isabella, which led to the partnership.
Helping students on even more tight budgets
The food is especially helpful for BMCC students such as Katherine, a Community Health Education major who has a seven-year-old at home full-time and no longer receiving breakfast or lunch at school.
Although Katherine has been able to work remotely as a peer-mentor at one of BMCC’s student support programs, her fiancé has only been working reduced hours. With rent and other expenses, the added cost of putting three meals a day on the table has stretched the family’s already tight budget even tighter.
“We’re spending a lot more money on food,” said Katherine. “And, prices seem to have really gone up since the pandemic began.”
In fact, over the month of April, the second month into the pandemic, the U.S. Labor Department said grocery prices spiked by 2.6 percent nationwide, the largest food price increase in 40 years. The federal agency laid the blame squarely on COVID-19.
Full-time student Tamara, who is a single mother, had been getting by with public assistance and a part time federal work-study job before the pandemic.
But when government offices shut down during the onset of the crisis, she faced delays in getting her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits updated and her employment was interrupted. For a while, the worry over food began to interfere with her studies.
“This new program has provided me with a bit of financial relief,” said Tamara. It’s one less meal that I have to spend money on to prepare and cook, and it’s really good.”
For the first two weeks of the partnership, the team from Feed the Frontlines NYC delivered hot Italian entrees that included a vegetarian pasta and grilled chicken salad. By the third week, the entrees were Spanish cuisine that featured fresh tamales. According to Harte, the food is exquisite.
“The food smells absolutely delicious and seems to have be prepared with a lot of care,” said Harte. “More importantly, the students recognize and appreciate that the food was made with love.”
Katherine, who has utilized the BMCC Single Stop Food Pantry and has been able to enjoy the entrees, says she is extremely grateful to Feed the Frontlines NYC and to BMCC for the cuisine.
“I think it’s such a wonderful and really generous thing they are doing for the BMCC students,” said Katherine. “I hope they continue to expand their mission.”
- Students facing food insecurity receive restaurant-quality meals each week
- One in four New Yorkers face food insecurity, including BMCC students
- Feed the Frontlines founded by restauranteur Luca Di Pietro