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Decades Later, RCC Food Cupboard Still Helping Students

Decades Later, RCC Food Cupboard Still Helping Students

Michael VerSchneider (left) and Richard George unload a van full of supplies for the RCC Food Cupboard.

DATE: December 18, 2017

a key part of College’s efforts to combat food insecurity

RAMAPO – Recent studies have brought greater awareness to the long-overlooked issue of significant hunger among college students. Rockland Community College continues to tackle the problem with increased attention and services, yet the solid heart of the College’s efforts rest on a project created by RCC students more than a third of a century ago.

The RCC Food Cupboard has long been a resource for students in challenging circumstances. Students with self-identified need may discreetly select items from the pantry and take a grocery-sized bag of food once a week. Several dozen RCC students visit the Cupboard each week.

The origins of this effort date back to the early 1980s when a Small Group Communication class, taught by Professor Wilma Frank, decided to focus on the issue of hunger in America. After interviews and discussions, the group was astonished to learn the scope of the problem within Rockland County and even at RCC. For its end-of-semester colloquium, the group gathered local leaders and College administrators, and that event gave birth to the idea of the Food Cupboard.

Frank, who still teaches at RCC, says her students contacted food banks, set up the space and distributed the food. “A group of caring and proactive students really made a difference,” Frank says. Eventually, the College’s Religious Life Office assumed responsibility for the Cupboard and kept it going.

Maintaining the tradition

On a recent Tuesday morning, a blue van drives directly onto the wooden floor of RCC’s Fieldhouse. At the wheel is Michael VerSchneider, co-director of the College’s Center for Christian Life and Coordinator of the Food Cupboard for the past 18 years. Beside him is Richard George, an RCC Psychology student who takes community service seriously. The back of the van holds more than 2,100 pounds of supplies for the Cupboard—literally a ton of food.

While RCC students no longer run the Food Cupboard on a day-to-day basis, George is maintaining the tradition started some 35 years ago. For the past couple of years, George has accompanied VerSchneider once a month for the drive to West Nyack to pick up a supply of food and transport it back to campus.

These supplies come from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, and make up the bulk of the food distributed at RCC each month. The Food Cupboard also gets donations from on-campus groups and other organizations to supplement this delivery.

The Food Cupboard’s hours traditionally have been limited, but the facility is open 18 hours a week this semester. “I’m starting to see more numbers,” says VerSchneider. “It’s becoming very important now.”

A hot topic

Indeed, the topic of hunger—or food insecurity, a relatively new term defined as the lack of reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food—is gaining prominence on college campuses. Recent surveys suggest at least one-quarter of community college students nationwide experience significant issues with food insecurity.

The Food Cupboard is just one part of Rockland Community College’s efforts on this front. In 2016, RCC created the Connection Center, an office on campus to help students deal with real-life issues that could stop them from completing their education. Joe Falco, the Center’s Coordinator, says food insecurity is the top problem RCC students face.

The Connection Center helps students access a variety of services, both on and off campus. The success of RCC’s programs prompted SUNY to invite Falco to make a presentation in November to members of its Board of Trustees to help provide a model for other colleges in the system.

Dr. Michael A. Baston, who took over as RCC President in July, has also moved the College forward on this front. Known for his focus on student success, Dr. Baston frequently addresses topics such as food insecurity, and was a featured speaker in October at a national conference on the issue.

Recently, the family of late Spring Valley resident Nathaniel Jackson made a donation in his memory to provide food vouchers for the Campus Cafe for students in need. In addition, the donation includes $1,000 for infrastructure improvements to the Food Cupboard. Among the goals is to add refrigeration units to expand the service to include perishable food items.

George will soon be moving on to continue his higher education at a four-year institution, but knows the Food Cupboard remains in good hands, describing numerous instances of VerSchneider going out of his way to help students hit by unfortunate circumstances. “Before other people knew about this issue,” George says, “Mike was there.”