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Students Hungry for More than Knowledge Find Food at York Pantry

Hungry For Knowledge, the aptly-named food pantry at York College, has continued the service of providing food for York students in need of additional nutrition throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in spite of the closing of the physical campus.

Dr. Jonathan Quash, Director of the Male Initiative & Special Programs, gives students appointments to meet him on campus to receive nutritious foods and snacks to tide them over during this critical time. Many students and or a parent have lost a job or more. But according to Quash, York is providing for more than its own students.

“We are feeding not only York students, but students from Baruch,

Medgar Evers and John Jay Colleges, [who] happen to live close to York College,” said Quash, who holds the PhD in Education Leadership. “Currently, we are distributing fresh produce (e.g. lettuce, cucumbers, celery, onions, potatoes, apples, zucchini), some meats (e.g. fish, beef and chicken) as well as a number of items that are shelf-stable. The students make a reservation on our pantry app (Plentiful) with the wonderful assistance from our interns in the Health Professions program.”

It is no small service that the York Pantry is providing. According to an August 2020 article in “The Hill,” a Washington, DC-based publication, advocates have been urging congressional representatives to address the hunger issue amongst college students. It states that college students were struggling with food insecurity before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the problem has skyrocketed due to the loss of campus jobs, restaurant jobs and other sources of student employment relied on for economic survival. The article goes on to say that prior to the pandemic, unemployment rate for students in the 20 to 24 age range was nine percent. Today it stands at a startling 26 percent.

Those sobering statistics underscore the value of what York and other CUNY campuses are offering through their respective pantries. At York, Quash and his interns endeavor to make the system as convenient and private as possible for students.

“We have arranged a system by which the interns shepherd their service from beginning to end, says Quash. “It has been such an amazing development in what York is doing for the community that I often ponder ways in which we can increase our giving.”

But it takes a village of donors to raise the resources for York’s giving to these students.

“We receive the majority of our inventory from the Food Bank of New York City, Grow NYC, Nourish NYC…” says Quash. “We also receive donations from students, staff, and faculty. Honorable mention to (York’s) Public Safety, which has made a significant donation to the program. Other [financial] donations have come from The Greater Queens Chapter of The Links, Inc., and Honda Campus All-Stars.

Quash reports that “one touching story,” from recent weeks, finds a young man and his brother, who visited the local public school once a week so they can get milk or whatever else is available, was reminded that there is a pantry at the college, which would provide much more than milk.

“His gratitude is beyond what words can describe, as the pandemic has left him -- and his family in a very challenging level of existence,” says Quash, who has served as a youth pastor at his church. “Not knowing where or when your next meal will come from causes with many anxious moments, as you can imagine. Another example is a young girl attending John Jay College. Her mother was laid off because of the pandemic and her younger sister is too young to work. The only income she has was from the internship that she has as a result of her coursework at John Jay College, which is not a lot.”

Quash says he received a call from a colleague late one Friday night telling him about the family and that they had not eaten in a day or two.

“That night I reached out to the student and said ‘please come to York in the morning.’ I gave her the instructions on where to meet me,” said Quash, a popular musician and vocalist at York and beyond. “I was able to give them about four bags of food, which was all that they could carry. The young girl's professor paid for an Uber for the family to come to the college and back, as they had no more resources to travel.”

Dr. Quash wants all students in need at York and any other CUNY students in the borough, to know that York is happy to help them secure nutrition available by appointment at York. And students who serve in the pantry are happy for the opportunity to serve fellow-students.

“Food is a basic need of a human being and if a person doesn't have food to eat, it should be a concern for the entire community,” says Najumun N Jaju, an intern with the pantry. “Due to COVID 19, we have been taking orders online where students reach us via email at their convenience and one of the pantry staff makes the appointment on an app called Plentiful to notify Dr. Quash to have a bag ready for a specific student at a specific time so they can come to pick up near the campus and not have to wait for a long period of time. I believe this is a good method because the student does not have to face multiple people face to face.”

Robbin Hicks, another student with the Pantry, concurs.

“During these very trying times the food pantry provides a way to assist students with food insecurities by providing a confidential way to seek assistance without fear of embarrassment,” she says. “The Food Pantry not only meets the physical needs of food for students but establishes a relationship that sometimes provide support in other areas when requested.

To be a part of this team truly concerned with the needs of our fellow-students absent of judgment is such a rewarding feeling.”

Quash and his staff are encouraging students to take advantage of this great service, which they have made as simple as possible for their convenience and need for privacy.

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