‘Food for thought,’ redefined, at the Panther Pantry

Meal break: Adelphi University President Christine Riordan (left) and Associate Dean of Student Affairs Della Hudson cut the ribbon on the Panther Pantry, designed to help out food-insecure students.

Following Albany’s lead on food-insecurity issues among New York college students, Adelphi University has opened the doors of its first-ever food pantry.

Late last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a comprehensive No Student Goes Hungry program, with the ambitious goal of providing “a food pantry or stigma-free food access for students in need” at every school in the State University and City University of New York systems by the end of the current Fall 2018 semester.

Coincidental to that announcement – the Garden City-based university already had its planes in the air, so to speak – Adelphi this week unveiled its Panther Pantry, a service designed to provide food conveniently and confidentially to hungry learners.

Citing a roster of “high-risk” students – including first-generation students, international students, DACA students (referencing young immigrants currently protected by federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protocols) and student-athletes – Della Hudson, Adelphi’s associate dean of student affairs, trumpeted a customized, volunteer-operated system designed to assure proper nutrition among food-insecure students without humiliating them.

“In some pantries, everyone gets the same, prepacked basket of items,” Hudson noted. “So, people might be getting food they don’t want. Our system is much more personalized.

“People can request in person the items they want, or choose them online,” she added. “Afterward, volunteers will box the items and they can be picked up.”

Other Long Island colleges and universities offer food pantries; some are coincidentally named “Panther Pantries,” including the pantry at SUNY-Old Westbury, where sports teams also go by the “Panther” moniker, as they do at Adelphi.

Now serving: Adelphi’s Panther Pantry is stocked and loaded.

The names relate to school nicknames and not a centralized “Panther Pantry” system. The Borough of Manhattan Community College also operates a Panther Pantry, as do Colorado’s Pueblo Community College, the University of Northern Iowa and Georgia State University, among other nationwide schools.

But that online-ordering option truly sets apart Adelphi’s Panther Pantry. School officials first determined the need – a “student experience survey” found more than 4 percent of undergraduates and about 3 percent of graduate students were food-insecure, with large majorities confirming they’d utilize a food-pantry service if available – then set out to create a system that aided students (and other members of the Adelphi community, including faculty and staff) without calling attention to their plight.

To that end, “customers” can either visit the pantry in person or order specific foodstuffs online and then pick up their packages during set hours in the university mailroom. They can also meet surreptitiously with pantry volunteers and university chaplains to pick up their rations.

Confidentiality is “maintained,” according to Adelphi, and any information on pantry users gathered by volunteers “will be used only to determine which items and amounts to stock and to gain knowledge of the population served.”

The online-ordering system, akin to Amazon.com’s ordering system, was designed by the university’s IT staff. Users are not required to meet any eligibility requirements – the honor system is in effect – and “if someone not affiliated with the campus shows up, volunteers give them food anyway,” Hudson said.

“We’re here to help,” she added.

And not just helping to fill bellies, but helping students to thrive academically, according to Adelphi University president Christine Riordan, who presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday on the lower level of New Hall A, where the Panther Pantry is located.

The true heart of the project, the president noted, is about supporting student success – a real challenge for some students who “can go an entire day without eating.”

“College is hard enough,” Riordan said. “It’s a transition. You’re moving on to adulthood in many cases.

“What you don’t want to have is some of the basic needs not being met.”