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Students in Service

With classmates' help, medical student reaches out to aid community

During her second and third years of medical school at Upstate, Evelisse Viamonte got bags of food once a month from a church-based food pantry near the university. Reducing her grocery bill helps this future pediatrician stay in school. “Education, food and transportation are all expensive,” explains Viamonte. “My educational costs take precedence.”  

Growing up in Coney Island, Brooklyn, Viamonte saw neighbors die from preventable diseases. She remembers doctors who “did amazing work” helping family members with significant health problems. These experiences fueled her desire to become a doctor who cares for people in struggling communities. 

At the food pantry, Viamonte saw many people who were struggling. A couple of years ago, she and several other medical students decided to offer a health screening for food pantry guests. Bruce Simmons, MD ’79, retired director of Upstate’s Employee and Student Health department and a volunteer at the food pantry, advised and oversaw the screening. 

The medical students took blood pressures and conducted sleep apnea screenings, provided information on primary care services, and listened. The food pantry guests opened up to the medical students. “We talked about sexually transmitted diseases, and challenges with drugs and alcohol,” explains Viamonte. “The people we spoke with were candid and very receptive.”  

During the 2020 pandemic, it has been challenging to find ways to support the food pantry community. Viamonte reached out to classmates in the Blackwell Learning Community, a student group dedicated to community engagement and named after Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman MD in the United States and an 1849 graduate of the College of Medicine.  The students wanted to help the food pantry, especially during the winter holiday season. 

Viamonte learned that the people who visit the food pantry on Sunday mornings are in desperate need of warm socks and personal hygiene products. Viamonte set up a collection box at Upstate’s Geneva Tower residence hall, which gleaned 58 pairs of socks and 52 bars of soap. The medical pediatric student group donated $100 to buy additional supplies. 

Now, each Sunday morning, guests of the Food Center @ 324—a vulnerable community comprised primarily of the homeless and those suffering from addiction—an count on a warm pair of socks and a bar of soap, thanks to Viamonte and her Upstate classmates. 

Upstate Medical University is in the process of opening Paley’s Pantry, an on-campus pantry for students facing food insecurity.