Donations to the Stony Brook University food pantry, which has been providing nourishment to students who are food insecure for 10 years, tend to track familiar routines.
During food drives, people go through their pantries or head to stores, often donating helpful and necessary cans of non-perishable goods like canned vegetables.
For students who are food insecure, some of whom stop by either the main food pantry on campus or one of the two satellite locations opened within the last year, items like granola bars, oatmeal, cereal, ready-made pasta meals and mac ’n cheese are also often welcome food choices to satisfy an instant need.
For members of the university community who are food insecure, the goal of the food pantry is to provide necessities while students concentrate on their studies.
“We want to make sure our students are able to focus on what they came here for, which is being academically successful and creating an enriching student life experience without worrying about where their next meal is coming from,” said Emily Snyder, director of the Department of Student Community Development at SBU.
The food pantry, which has 31 student volunteers, distributed about 22,900 individual items during 2022-2023.
Last year, the pantry had about 2,000 visitors, with about 600 to 700 people who sought sustenance at the pantry more than once during the course of the academic year.
On a busy day, the pantries can get upwards of 15 to 20 visitors, which can increase further when the school provides targeted outreach about available perishables with time-sensitive pick up windows.
The primary location for the food pantry is at the Stony Brook Union in Suite L-20 in the lower level. Satellite locations opened last winter at the LGBTQ Center on the second floor of the West Side Dining and the second floor hallway of the Student Activities Center.
The pantry has seen a “considerable increase from year to year,” said Ashley Mercado, assistant director in the Center for Civic Justice at Stony Brook.
The Student Community Development group took over operation of the pantry in 2020, when the needs were growing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were doing contactless delivery for residents still living on campus,” said Snyder. “The need is always there.”
Visits to the pantry have increased by 150% since 2020, with a rise of 112% in unique users since that time.
Snyder suggested that Stony Brook was focusing on “destigmatizing” the use of resources such as the food pantry. “We have really been focused on communicating that it’s OK to ask for help.”
Snyder and Mercado appreciated the support of students, university departments and the community, who have donated food items to a pantry that has become an increasingly important resource on campus.
Support for the pantry comes from the state as well as monetary and goods donations, including a recent donation of $10,000 from Stop and Shop gift cards.
Tanisa Usha, a junior from Brooklyn who started volunteering last fall, contributes eight hours a week as an undergraduate student coordinator.
She “enjoys being able to help” and appreciates the opportunity to “make sure [students] feel welcome,” Usha said.
The pantry also stocks a few hygiene products, which are popular with students. Hygiene items can include anything that’s packaged appropriately, such as razors, soaps and hair care products.
Unusual Thanksgiving items
Snyder and Mercado said donations typically increase around the holidays.
During Thanksgiving, people bring in pumpkin pie mix, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
“People assume that’s the cuisine everyone is looking for,” said Mercado. At Stony Brook University, where diversity is one of the school’s assets, students are often seeking foods that are more familiar to them.
“We have an Asian grocery store close to campus,” said Mercado. “People will buy from there and donate. Students get excited when we get products they are used to having.”