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Long Island college students get help from on-campus food pantries

Luigi Pesce, a Stony Brook University Ph.D student, at the campus food pantry on May 4. / Newsday/Michael Cusanelli

For nearly a year, Stony Brook University student Luigi Pesce says the main way he ate was by attending campus events where free food was being provided. He would bring Tupperware with him to take leftovers to last him until the next event.

Pesce, an international student from Venezuela, said that at the time, he couldn’t afford a meal plan and lacked access to financial aid.

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For nearly a year, Stony Brook University student Luigi Pesce says the main way he ate was by attending campus events where free food was being provided. He would bring Tupperware with him to take leftovers to last him until the next event.

Pesce, an international student from Venezuela, said that at the time, he couldn’t afford a meal plan and lacked access to financial aid.

But everything changed when he heard about the on-campus food pantry in the spring of 2015. It made the difference between going to class hungry and being able to succeed in school, he said.

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“I remember not having enough money to eat,” he said. “Eating [only] once a day definitely affected my studies, so I’m very grateful for the food pantry.”

Pesce is one of the college students on Long Island, and among the 36 percent of college students nationwide, who struggle with food insecurity, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritious and safe foods.

Of the 17 colleges on Long Island, Stony Brook is one of six that has a food pantry, along with Nassau Community College, SUNY Old Westbury, Hofstra University, St. Joseph’s College and Suffolk County Community College. SUNY Farmingdale is currently in the process of developing its own pantry. Students only need to show their school ID in order to utilize the pantries.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed establishing the No Student Goes Hungry Program, an on-site food pantry or outside arrangement for food assistance for all state schools, in his 2018 State of the State address. Currently, fewer than half of SUNY and CUNY campuses across the state have food pantries, according to Cuomo’s office.

There are more than 570 campus food pantries nationwide, up from fewer than 10 in 2009, according to the release.

Food insecurity is more severe at community colleges nationwide, where 42 percent of students are food insecure, according to an April survey from the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, a research laboratory that specializes in postsecondary education.

Nassau Community College opened its food pantry in 2015 to address the needs of the campus community. It serves about 1,000 people a week, including students and faculty members’ families. Since opening, the pantry has grown to include toiletries, additional healthy food options and toys during the holiday season, according to Gina Sipley, an NCC professor and NEST coordinator.

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Ryan Ramsaroop, 27, of Valley Stream is one of the NEST’s regular guests. He had to put his plans to attend NCC on hold in 2012 after his home was damaged during superstorm Sandy. When he began school again three years later, the computer science student quickly realized he couldn’t afford even a carton of milk after paying for tuition and transportation.

Now he volunteers at the pantry that helps him get the food he needs, and connections there made it possible to land a part-time job with the college’s reading and basic education department.

“Helping out does make a difference,” he said. “It’s like God’s work, that you’re helping out a good cause.”

Stony Brook sophomore Jocelyn Chen uses the campus food pantry to get ingredients she can bring back to her dorm room, which is equipped with a kitchen.

Chen, who doesn’t drive and does not have a meal plan, said it was often difficult for her to get to a grocery store off-campus, causing her to spend more money at the school convenience store.

“Going to the pantry is convenient and it helps me save money since it [groceries] can be really costly,” said Chen, who has a part-time job to aid her parents in paying for her tuition.

For Pesce, who is now a PhD student studying health sciences, a university stipend has helped improve his financial situation. However, he said the Stony Brook food pantry is still critical in getting him the essential groceries he needs, especially so he can save money for the future and assist his relatives back home.

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Even though Pesce’s father is a surgeon and his mother is an obstetrician back in Venezuela, the country’s economy is in crisis and their financial situation is so dire that he still tries to send a small amount of money to them each month to help care for his younger siblings.

“Whatever food I can get, that’s money that I don’t have to spend on food,” he said. “Even four years later with a salary, I still need the food pantry.”