By Victoria Merlino
The City University of New York system has long been known as the gateway to the middle class, but until they graduate and secure jobs, low-income students still need a way to access affordable meals.
That’s why the CUNY system — along with campuses across the State University of New York system — will offer free food via on-campus pantries to its tens of thousands of students, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
The announcement comes a few days into the first week of classes for students at York College, Queens College, LaGuardia College and Queensborough Community College and other CUNY campuses. The food pantries will provide stigma-free food access for students in-need.
“Hunger should never be a barrier for those seeking to achieve their dreams of a higher education,” Cuomo said in a statement. “New York is proud to be the first state in the nation to require every public campus to have a food pantry, ensuring that our students have all they need on the path to success.”
CUNY currently operates food pantries or provides free food at 18 of its 25 campuses and the expansion affect thousands of New Yorkers. CUNY is one of the largest university systems in the world and served more than 274,000 undergraduate and graduate students across all income levels and backgrounds in the fall 2017 semester.
CUNY reported that, in 2015, 38.5 percent of students come from households that make less than $20,000 a year.
About 15 percent of CUNY students go hungry because they cannot afford food, said CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz.
“The governor’s initiative to combat food insecurity on all public university campuses will have a significant positive impact on our students,” Rabinowitz said in a statement.
CUNY has worked to reduce food insecurity on campus with programs like Healthy CUNY and partners like the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute. The institute reported that 23 percent of students responded to a survey saying they experienced food insecurity in 2011.
“The significant decline in the proportion of students who reported they were often hungry shows that working together, CUNY faculty, staff and students can reduce the most serious health and social problems facing our students,” Nick Freudenberg, faculty director for Healthy CUNY and the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, said in 2016.
In Queens, specific CUNY campuses had already begun opening food pantries before Cuomo’s announcement.
Queensborough, for example, has a student government committee that is dedicated to food insecurity and that helps manage the campus food pantry. At York, students donate items to the food pantry and at Queens College, students have held fundraisers to stock the pantry.