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Jeremy Houghtaling, The Citizen 

Onondaga's Payton Noeller makes a pass against Cayuga at Spartan Hall Saturday.

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How NY public colleges are using campus food pantries to fight student hunger

In his State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought to address a growing problem on New York college campuses: students who lack access to food. 

Cuomo's proposal, which was included in his 2018-19 executive budget, would require State University of New York and City University of New York institutions to either have food pantries on campus or provide an alternative program for students to receive food. 

Many of New York's public colleges and universities already have a campus food bank. Holly Liapis, press secretary for the State University of New York, said 70 percent of the system's 64 institutions, including Cayuga Community College in Auburn, have food pantries on campus or offer students food through community partnerships.

Some campuses have other programs, including community gardens, emergency food vouchers for students and dining center meal donations. 

"We applaud Governor Cuomo for his proposal to ensure that no SUNY student goes hungry, and we look forward to making this important vision a reality through an expansion of SUNY's current efforts and the work of our food insecurity task force established by the SUNY Board of Trustees in November," Liapis said. 

The problem 

"Hunger on Campus," a study released in 2016, found 48 percent of students surveyed experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days. Nearly one-quarter of respondents — 22 percent — reported "very low levels of food security that qualify them as hungry," according to the study. 

Food insecurity affects two-year and four-year colleges. One-quarter of community college students and 20 percent of four-year college students said they have low food security. The rates are higher among students of color, with 57 percent of African American students saying they experienced food insecurity. 

Clare Cady, co-founder and co-director of the College and University Food Bank Alliance, tied food insecurity to the rising costs of attending college. 

"Financial aid has not kept pace with that and so students are often finding themselves in situations where they can't make ends meet," Cady said. 

She cited another study that focused on community college students. The survey's key finding was that 33 percent of community college students experience very low food security based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's standards. 

Cady noted that the number of community college students experiencing food insecurity is more than twice the national average, which is close to 15 percent. 

The study was the second to highlight the food insecurity problem affecting college students. Cady said another study, which will focus on four-year institutions, will be released this year. 

The response

Before Cuomo rolled out his plan to address food insecurity on college campuses, some SUNY institutions have already established food banks to assist students. 

At Stony Brook University, one of the largest institutions in the SUNY system, the campus food pantry has been open since 2013. Anyone with a university identification card — students, faculty and staff — may access the food pantry, which is open primarily during the fall and spring semesters. 

Stony Brook University 

A photo of staff at the food pantry on the Stony Brook University campus. 

Over the last five years, the Stony Brook food pantry has served at least 4,100 people and averages 15 to 20 visitors a week. 

Donna Crapanzano, a professor at Stony Brook's School of Health Technology and Management and co-director of the food pantry, said most of the food — she estimated about 90 percent — is donated to the pantry. One of the primary sources of food is a large food drive that's held during the spring semester. 

Stony Brook learned more about its food insecurity challenges through an informal survey conducted by a graduate social work student. From that survey it was determined that food insecurity affects faculty, staff and students. 

How Stony Brook administers its food pantry differs from other campus food banks. Since its inception, the food pantry works with a dietitian and nutritionist to design balanced meals for students. That guidance is used to request certain food donations to stock the pantry. 

"One of the things that we do is every guest gets a complete bag of food," Crapanzano said. "It's not a meal replacement. It's really to supplement the meals that you have during the week. So we make sure that every guest receives a fruit, a vegetable, a protein and some type of starch."

The bags don't include chips, cookies and other snacks, but Crapanzano said there is a "junk food table" for guests. 

Many of New York's community colleges have campus food pantries. Schenectady County Community College opened its food bank in January 2017. The decision to establish an on-campus food pantry came after professors noticed students were struggling because they lacked access to food. 

Eileen Abrahams, an English professor at the college, said the food pantry began in a hallway. The school's administration supported their efforts to secure more space for the food pantry. 


Volunteers at the Schenectady County Community College food pantry are, from left, Tinsley Hembree, student activities adviser; Dr. Babette Faehmel, associate liberal arts professor; Eileen Abrahams, associate liberal arts professor; and Robyn King, student affairs counselor. 

For months, the pantry relied on donations to ensure there was enough food for students. Financial contributions helped organizers keep the shelves stocked. 

SCCC's food pantry is now associated with the Northeast Food Pantry, Abrahams said. They will begin buying food from the Northeast Food Pantry this semester. 

Dr. Aaron Tolbert, interim dean of SCCC's liberal arts department, said the food pantry has served more than 175 students. In addition to food, the pantry also has hygiene products available for guests. 

One of the major differences between food insecurity at four-year schools compared to community colleges is that most students don't live on campus. SCCC, like other community colleges, does not have any on-campus residential facilities. 

For students experiencing food insecurity, the added cost of commuting could pose problems. 

"Our goal is to help all range of students who come to our college be successful, be able to graduate and if they're making those kind of choices between gas money for the car to attend class or food, they're not going to make it to every class," Tolbert said. 

One of the newest on-campus food pantries in the SUNY system is at Cayuga Community College in Auburn. Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, vice president of student affairs at the college, said the food pantry opened in December. 

The college decided to open a food pantry to assist students, primarily those living in Lattimore Hall in downtown Auburn, who were experiencing food insecurity. Rosenthal said one reason why food insecurity is a problem is students attending fall classes don't receive financial aid disbursements until October — roughly the halfway point of the semester. 

"There was a period of time where Lattimore Hall students were struggling to find food because they didn't have money and this was something I thought we could address in a reasonable way," Rosenthal said. 

The food pantry is led by Toni Giannettino, executive director of the Faculty-Student Association of Cayuga Community College and head coach of the men's and women's cross country teams. A fundraiser was held to stock the pantry. While Lattimore Hall students were a main motivator for opening the food pantry, it is open to any student in need. 

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Items on the shelf at the Cayuga Community College food pantry on the Auburn campus.

CCC plans to open a food pantry for students at its Fulton campus. Rosenthal said a location has been secured and there has been a fundraiser to collect food donations. The next step in the process is to stock the food pantry and open it for students. 

The college is already considering improvements to the food pantry on its Auburn campus. Rosenthal said they may need a larger room because there are so many food donations. There is also a need for refrigerated items, he added. They are exploring the possibility of buying a refrigerator for the pantry. 

What's next? 

Cuomo included his proposal in the 2018-19 executive budget. Whether it's in the state budget or not, the state Legislature must sign off on requiring SUNY campuses to have food pantries for students. 

So far, Cuomo's proposal has faced little resistance. A factor in that lack of opposition may be that many SUNY campuses already have food pantries or existing relationships with community food banks.

Rosenthal doesn't view the governor's plan as a challenge for institutions, especially community colleges. 

"The colleagues that I talk to at the SUNY community colleges really already have food pantries, so I don't think it's necessarily an undue or additional burden," he said. "They already have it. It's already in place. They're already serving students. So I don't think it's really an issue." 

Clare Cady of the College and University Food Bank Alliance lauded Cuomo for his statewide proposal. She called a "really positive step in the right direction" and believes New York could be a leader in addressing food insecurity on college campuses. 

However, she hopes the mandate will not be the end of the state's efforts to combat food insecurity among college students. 

"What we're seeing across the country are campuses coming up with longer term and more proactive approaches to addressing food insecurity among students," Cady said. "What they might be doing is connecting students with public benefits like food stamps or providing students with food scholarships or vouchers that allow them to get meals more frequently." 

As examples, she mentioned Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and Houston Community College in Texas. Bunker Hill offers food vouchers for students. Houston has a food scholarship program. 

She also noted that several schools in the CUNY system have joined a nonprofit that helps connect students to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps, and other public benefits. 

"I think that campus pantries, which is part of (Cuomo's proposal), is a great start. I think that students needed food yesterday, so to make sure that we set them up with what they need in a quick manner so that they can get it when they have an emergency is excellent," she said. "My hope is that that becomes a catalyst for further action." 

Eye on NY: Why Rep. John Katko invited Oswego woman to attend State of the Union

The mother of an Oswego teen who died in 2012 after using synthetic marijuana will be U.S. Rep. John Katko's guest at President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address Tuesday. 

Teresa Woolson, of Oswego, said Katko, R-Camillus, called and invited her to attend the address before a joint session of Congress. Members of Congress are each permitted to bring one guest to the event. 

"I was quite humbled to be asked," Woolson said in a phone interview Thursday. "I'm very excited."

Katko said he invited Woolson to highlight the need to combat synthetic drugs. Woolson's son, Victor, drowned in Lake Ontario after he smoked synthetic marijuana. 

One of the challenges is the layers of bureaucracy involved in designating a synthetic drug as a controlled substance. Woolson said the drug her son used, XLR-11, wasn't permanently placed on the controlled substances list until 2016. 

"Four more years of people getting hurt and killed with this drug is not acceptable," she said. 

While in Washington, Woolson will join Katko for meetings with a few members of Congress about the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act. Katko introduced the bill in June

The legislation would establish a new schedule, Schedule A, under the Controlled Substances Act to crack down on chemicals used in the production of synthetic drugs. Katko also wants to add 13 synthetic fentanyl compounds to the new schedule. Synthetic fentanyl has been a major factor in the rising number of opioid overdose cases. 

When Katko testified before a House subcommittee in October, he sought to build support for his bill by mentioning a handful of central New Yorkers who died after using opioids or synthetic drugs. Victor Woolson's story was one relayed by the congressman. 

Teresa Woolson believes Katko's bill will help combat the rise of synthetic drugs. 

"That will help immensely getting these on the controlled substances list once they are identified," she said. 

The legislation has bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Fifty-four of Katko's House colleagues have cosponsored the bill, including five Democrats. U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Long Island Democrat, was an original cosponsor of the measure. 

The bill is advancing in the House. The House Judiciary Committee approved it in July. It is now awaiting action in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

"I think it's going to finally move and once it moves it's going to move pretty quickly because I have a Senate counterpart, too," Katko said. 

Katko and Woolson have partnered on efforts to combat synthetic drug abuse dating back to his first congressional campaign. When he held a public forum on the drug epidemic in Oswego County, Woolson was one of the panelists. 

Woolson lauded Katko for doing his part to keep the issue at the forefront. 

"People are still dying all over the United States and this is something that really is just so important," she said. "I'm really, really excited and I'm excited to be a historical event like the State of the Union. It's just going to be quite exciting to me just to be there and witnessing this." 

State Reps, Cayuga County school leaders weigh potential impact of state budget

AURELIUS — State legislators and Cayuga County school district leaders traded ideas on budget concerns regarding Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2018-2019 executive budget proposal.

The event was held at the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES building in Aurelius. State Sen. Pam Helming, State Sen. John DeFrancisco, State Assemblyman Bob Oaks and State Assemblyman Gary Finch held down the fort.

Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, which advocates for equatable state aid among state school districts, gave a presentation outlining the budget proposal and the effects the executive budget would have on Cayuga County districts.

Timbs said that while there were efforts in the proposal to provide equity to the poorest districts in the state, districts that are not among the absolute poorest, such as Auburn and Port Byron, were not granted large amounts of state foundation aid. Foundation aid is the base aid school districts receive.

He also noted that some wealthier districts in the state were given larger aid boosts than some poorer districts and suggested some alterations to the foundation aid formula. Timbs noted that districts have been balancing more services for children in recent years, such as health care, social services and summer programs.

When it came for the legislators to speak, Helming and DeFrancisco both asked school district leaders to tell them which specific mandates within the budget the districts would like them to address. Helming said it would be helpful for the school districts to come together and give a list of their "top five" specific mandates they'd like to be relieved from.

"Give me a list of things of what things you want to be unsaddled from, what things that — I hear 'unfunded mandates' (all the time), but the fact of the matter is, what can we do to make your districts less costly, really less costly?" DeFrancisco said.

"This isn't school any more, this is school, summer camp, home and everything else and you're asked to do that on the same money that you're supposed to run a school district."

Port Byron Central School District Superintendent Neil O'Brien thanked legislators for attending and said he can't come up with five particular mandates within all the requirements districts handle.

"In a lot of ways, we have a 20th century education system enshrined in law and we have 21st century education we're trying to provide children," O'Brien said.

Auburn Enlarged City School District Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo also thanked legislators for their past efforts assisting Auburn and expressed frustration with trying to get more state aid. He referenced past issues the district has experienced, such as staff cuts and the shutdown of West Middle School in 2011.

"Every year we sound like a broken record, and I know you're all hearing us say that year in and year out, but we're frustrated because we don't know what else to do. We've closed schools down, we've laid off teachers, we've consolidated services. Our numbers are getting up to 25 kids a class, (for) high school, up to 30 children a class," Pirozzolo said.

Pirozzolo asked legislators what else districts can do to advocate for their schools. Helming replied, saying it would be helpful for local districts to come together with a unified advocacy message for next year's budget.

"I don't have an answer to that, but one of the things that I'm learning is that it seems like some school districts vary in what component of the (foundation aid) formula they want adjusted, so there's no consistency there," Helming said. "Which makes it really difficult to say, 'Fix the formula.' Fix it how?" Helming said.

Helming also mentioned the 2015 lottery win the Port Byron district has argued is at least partiality to blame for the potential $358,000 loss in state aid the area faces in Cuomo's budget proposal. She said she has been speaking with the state Senate Finance Committee about the issue.

After the meeting, Pirozzolo said there are some different ways he can advocate for Auburn, such as lobbying for the elimination of proposed competitive grants. The state budget proposal includes an additional $50 million for the grants. The grants, which began with the 2011-2012 enacted budget, are used "to encourage school districts to implement innovative approaches to achieve academic gains and management efficiency," according to the state website. Grants are given to districts "exhibiting either dramatically improved performance or innovative management."

"If the governor has already budgeted for competitive grants, let's get rid of the competitive grants, spread that out to the poorer school districts, so that selected school districts aren't continually receiving those monies," Pirozzolo said.

Pirozzolo said he feels Cayuga County school districts are consistent in their message.

"As far as all of our districts, I think we already do come together. I mean, our county we go with the same message, because we lobby (in Albany) in March and we go in with the same worksheet," Pirozzolo said.