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Local initiative tackles food access in Geneva-area

Passing the plate can go a long way. Especially in a community like Geneva, as the fight to create better access to food continues.

Accessibility to any nutritional sources, let alone fresh produce have rapidly dropped with grocers like Tops Friendly Markets along Hamilton Street and convenience stores like Rite Aid in downtown closing-up shop, leaving many without alternative ways to access food.

Public transportation resources are finite and restrictive in the number of bags that patrons can carry onto buses; and private transportation services in Todd’s Taxi and rideshare apps like Uber turns a simple trip to the grocery store into a weekly and costly reoccurring expense for residents that live in distant and isolated neighborhoods, far beyond walking distance.

However, Hobart and William Smith Colleges seeks to contribute to this cause in an effort to redress the ever-prevalent food desert situation on its own college campus.

Pass the Plate pantry coordinator Jenn Grillo Tufano grapples with providing food accessibility for college students since their opening in Janaury of 2018.

“I felt a little isolated to the greater food issue,” Tufano said.

Although the food pantry is solely available to members of the Colleges, she realizes that structural and social factors contribute and affect how employees, staff, faculty and students alike may not be eating elsewhere.

Tufano even plans on attending her first food justice coalition meeting in the near future to connect with some of the community’s most vocal advocates for food justice programs to explore solutions to remedy inequalities associated to accessing nutritional food options in the area.

By joining the upcoming coalition meeting, she hopes to discover new ways to collaborate and contribute in the overarching conversation surrounding food accessibility throughout Geneva.

On a weekly basis, Pass the Plate sees roughly four to five students in the basement of Demarest Hall, where a room stocked-full of non-perishable products sit idlily on counters and layered-shelving, waiting to be consumed by those who are hungry.

But before anyone can pick-out food, Tufano asks students to fill-out an anonymous survey that helps the pantry evaluate demographics and determines needs among the general student population.

While the total number of visiting students varies from week-to-week, Tufano mentions that attendance towards the beginning and end of semesters suddenly spikes, especially when the majority of students are stuck in mandated Sodexo Food Services meal plans that eventually drop-off.

Many students cannot afford full meal plan coverage and options can cost between a minimal of $742.50 and up to $3,695 each semester.

Tufano explained that the Colleges does not exhaust any budget-line for the food pantry but has subsisted solely on direct donations from the community, characterizing their collective giving as “overwhelming and consistent.”

Despite her limited resources, she is still glad to “meet student needs” through a “progressive and thoughtful” student-oriented service.

But most of all, Tufano desires to destigmatize visiting the food pantry itself, but also disarm stereotypes that are associated to asking for a lending-hand or simply getting assistance for those who are in need.

“Hobart and William Smith Colleges is an example in the way that the community meets student needs,” she elaborated.

As one of 700 food pantries nationwide, Pass the Plate is a member of the College & University Food Bank Alliance alongside other local universities like Syracuse, Rochester Institute of Technology and Cornell.

Even New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has already addressed the food accessibility issue in the Empire State for college students.

Last year, Governor Cuomo phased in a mandate for public colleges throughout New York state that required the State University of New York and City University of New York to provide a food pantry or stigma-free food access to enrolled students.

The initiative was touted by the Governor’s office as the “No Student Goes Hungry Program” was implemented by the end of the 2018 fall semester.

Meanwhile, as for the rest of Geneva, the city does not host its own food pantry, unlike other surrounding communities in Seneca Falls, Clifton Springs, Victor and Waterloo.

However, the municipality aids the Geneva Center of Concern, a non-profit entity located on Avenue D, a roughly 20-minute walk from the center of downtown; and the Salvation Army of Geneva also assists in combatting hunger.


– Reporting & Photos by Gabriel Pietrorazio

An undergraduate student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Pietrorazio has written for the Town Times of Watertown, Connecticut and Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, New York. He’s currently a reporter for FL1 News, and can be reached at [email protected].

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