Multimedia / News / Student Life

Free Food Pantry Opens at The Silberman School of Social Work

The new pantries are in the basement directly below the main entrance.

Hungry Hunter College students now have access to food pantries on the East Harlem campus at 119th St and 3rd Ave.

The New York City Food Policy Program in February installed two vending machine-style food pantries on the campus, which is home to the Silberman School of Social Work, the Department of Nutrition and Public Health, and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.

The machines, which the program has named “Smart Pantries,” have a QR code that students can scan to open a quick survey and receive 10 points per week, which in turn can be spent on items in the pantries. One of the machines is dedicated to refrigerated items, and the other has shelf-stable items. A refrigerated item, like a bag of produce, might be worth five points, while a shelf-stable item, like a bag of PopCorners, might be worth two points.

“We really wanted to distinguish between the other vending machines that might exist on a campus or any place really,” said Annette Nielsen, the executive director of the NYC Food Policy Program.

The East Harlem campus is about 20 minutes away on the subway from Hunter’s main campus on 68th Street. There were already food pantries at the 68th Street campus and the Brookdale campus. Before the installation, the students in East Harlem had limited access to affordable food on campus since there was no pantry or cafeteria.  

The refrigerated pantry contains bags of fresh produce and dishes like wraps and rice bowls.

The food pantries were created as “a way to address food insecurity on the campus,” said Nielsen.

Food insecurity has been on the rise throughout the country with an overall 31%, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And about 1.2 million New Yorkers are food insecure, according to recent data from the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy. The rates of food insecurity among students are even higher. 

“You can’t focus when you’re hungry,” said Nielsen about how food insecurity affects students.

The machines are thought to be cheaper to maintain than a traditional brick-and-mortar pantry since paid employees aren’t necessary. The pantries are also available more often since they can be accessed whenever the campus is open instead of during set hours. But one downside is that the machines can have technical issues that take a while to resolve, said Nielsen. 

Nielsen said the food in the pantries was chosen to be fresh, local and nutritious. Every Tuesday morning, they receive produce from New York-based farmers to be packaged and placed in the pantries. They also receive prepared dishes like salads and wraps from a local company called E.Terra Kitchen and soup made from surplus produce from a women-owned company called Matriark Foods.

The shelf stable pantry has dishes like kidney beans and Matriark’s vegetable stew and snacks like pretzels and fruit leathers.

Nielsen chooses local and minority-owned food providers to reduce pollution caused by transportation and invest in marginalized groups.

“When we order through Grow NYC, … we can identify those farmers and producers that are BIPOC or women-owned, which is also very important because it strengthens our food system in different ways,” said Nielsen, referring to the food, greenmarket, and environmental nonprofit. 

She said the idea for the food pantry came about during the pandemic and was inspired by the NYC Neighborhood Food Resource Guides that the program developed and maintains. The directory shows food pantries, bodegas, farmers’ markets, and where you go to sign up for SNAP and WIC in the 59 city community districts. It’s also regularly verified and updated by interns who work for the food policy center.   

The guide is the only place in New York City where you can find all this information and be pretty confident that it is good to go, according to Nielsen.

The food policy center offers many other resources for students, like free cooking classes and an herb gardening event. To find out about upcoming events and other relevant news, you can subscribe to the center’s newsletter.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.