New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State address earlier this month proposed a “No Student Goes Hungry” program. The five-point plan aims to combat hunger for students in kindergarten through college. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports anti-hunger advocates are praising the governor’s effort.
One of the proposals is to require food pantries on all SUNY and CUNY campuses, either through a physical pantry on campus or by providing students the ability to receive food through a separate, stigma-free arrangement. Cuomo, a Democrat, says New York would be the first state to require every public campus to have a food pantry. The State University of New York at New Paltz has had a food pantry for six years. Reverend Dr. Dianna Smith is director and says it started when she heard one student needed food.
“I thought, well, if one student needs, more must, and I kind of stocked a few little things,” Rev. Smith says. “Within the first two weeks that I was open, with a couple of shelves with Ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese and those kinds of things, 12 students came. That was eye-opening to me, and it just grew and grew and grew.”
“We’ve also recently become supported directly by the college, which has been wonderful. We are able to get some things through the college ordering system. And that’s been amazing because it’s every little bit helps when you have that many students and staff coming through the food pantry,” says Rev. Smith. “With the monies that I have to go to the food bank, it’s just not enough to support us in all the days that we’re open.”
The food pantry is open three days a week and Smith hope to extend it to five days a week. Smith has helped other area colleges establish food pantries. SUNY Ulster and Dutchess County Community College opened food pantries last year. Smith says the number of students using New Paltz’s food pantry grows every year.
“And they know that they can come in, there is no shame, nobody’s putting any pressure on them,” says Rev. Smith. “Because I’m a pastor, I generally wear my collar, just in case one of them wants to talk, which often happens.”
Cuomo proposes a $1 million state investment for schools to implement food pantries. Susan Zimet is executive director of Hunger Action Network. Zimet says the “No Student Goes Hungry” plan and associated funding are necessary.
“And so he’s actually putting money where his mouth is to help the schools offset the cost of assuring that the students get food to eat. So we are really extremely delighted,” says Zimet. “We would love not to see pantries and free and reduced meals be the answer. We would love everybody to have a job and a living wage so they can buy their own food and prepare meals for their kids. But, in the interim, until we reach nirvana, this is a fantastic step in the right direction.”
And she applauds another part of Cuomo’s plan.
“He’s also dealing with the issue of food shaming, which is so critical for poor kids who have to eat free or reduced meals, and kids know that they’re eating free and reduced meals, and then they make fun of them, so kids would rather not eat than be shamed,” Zimet says.
Cuomo says he will propose legislation to end so-called lunch shaming for students receiving meals at reduced rates or for free. The Democrat also wants to ban alternative lunches and require that every student receive the same meal. Another facet of the governor’s plan would require breakfast after the school day starts in schools with more than 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Cuomo points to the city of Newburgh, where Breakfast After the Bell was implemented during the 2015-16 school year. Caitlin Lazarski is food services director for the Newburgh Enlarged City School District. She says more students are eating breakfast since the program launched.
“Before we had these outside-of-the-classroom models, or breakfast after the bell, we were only feeding about 35 percent of our kids breakfast district-wide, and now we’re feeding 65-70 percent of our kids on any given day,” Lazarski says. “In some of our elementary schools, we’re feeding upwards of 85-90 percent of our students. Our high school/middle school participation is climbing as we kind of grow our programs and figure out what works for that age group.”
The district began offering free breakfast to every student, which Lazarski says helped eliminate the stigma for low-income students.
“From pre-K through fifth grade, we deliver or the students deliver breakfast to the classroom,” Lazarski says. “So every student goes right off the bus or right from their drop-off line right to their classroom and they put their stuff away and they have morning assignments and they have their breakfast right there ready for them.”
The program differs for other grades.
“Our middle school populations, they do a grab-and-go,” says Lazarski. “So we set up a kiosk or a station as they’re coming through the doors and they go past a line where they can pick from a variety of different options and go to their first-period class with it.”
Cuomo proposes an estimated $7 million to support expanded breakfast for 1,400 schools. Cuomo’s “No Student Goes Hungry” plan also includes expanding the farm to school program; and increasing the use of farm-fresh, locally grown foods at schools.