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Upstate fights student hunger with new program, new fund

Upstate fights student hunger with new program, new fund

As if going to classes and clinicals, studying, working and taking care of families wasn’t enough, an increasing number of U.S. college students face the daily uncertainty of food insecurity, according to the 2017 “Hungry and Homeless in College” report from the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. At Upstate Medical University, a recent survey administered by the Office of Student Affairs suggests that up to 20 percent of Upstate’s students responding are hungry. The new “Upstate Fights Student Hunger Fund” was established recently at the Upstate Foundation to help alleviate this situation.

Julie R. White, PhD, dean of student affairs, and Danielle Katz, MD, associate dean for graduate medical education, joined forces to develop a plan to combat hunger on the Upstate campus. They enlisted the Upstate Foundation, and together they raised funds from hospital clinical departments, faculty, staff and the umbrella organization of the faculty practice plan, UUMAS.

“While no large studies of the effects of food insecurity on college students have been done, several smaller studies show that hunger can have devastating effects,” said White. “This includes higher levels of stress, lower grade point averages and significantly higher likelihood of dropping out before completing a degree. . .yet still carrying a load of student debt.”

Funding for a pilot program was raised and a partnership with a local food pantry was developed. The pantry is located a short walk from campus at the University United Methodist Church at 1085 E. Genesee Street on the corner of University Avenue and East Genesee. Recognizing that students may be reluctant to go to a food pantry, specific hours were set during which the pantry is open for Upstate students only, although students may go any time during regular pantry hours.

During the three-month trial partnership (November to January), Upstate students may access free and nutritious food on the second Tuesday of the month. The next opportunity is Tuesday, Jan. 8,  from 5 to 7 p.m. The program will be assessed in January for continuation.

During the trial period, program leaders are also evaluating the possibility of offering grocery store gift cards or vouchers to Upstate students who are experiencing food insecurity.

Announcing the program, Katz and White noted, “We want our students to flourish here at Upstate, and this potential is limited if they are hungry. We have students who are hungry. Won’t you now join us in helping to ameliorate it?”

“We are distressed to learn of this need on our campus and commend this new initiative to help protect and support our students who experience hunger or food insecurity,” said Eileen Pezzi, vice president for development at Upstate.

Donations to can be made anytime directly to the Upstate Fights Student Hunger Fund at the Upstate Foundation.