Hunger is a problem in many areas of the country including in the Mohawk Valley. Assisting in addressing this community challenge are two Hamilton student organizations, The Harvest and Hamilton vs Hunger.
Currently in its second year, The Harvest is a Community Outreach and Opportunity Project (COOP) partnership with the Johnson Park Center of Utica that provides timely nutritional support to residents by repackaging excess food from Commons Dining Hall. Sophie Dizengoff ’18, this year’s Harvest coordinator, explained, “The goal of this program is two-fold: to help out in the local community and also eliminate waste here at Hamilton.”
The initiative is the product of a Levitt-sponsored round table discussion series on local hunger issues. Led by Professor of Economics Paul Hagstrom, members from across the campus – including faculty, students and staff – met on Friday afternoons to discuss how to use Hamilton resources to address hunger in our community. The group invited and listened to a variety of representatives from local food banks, soup kitchens and community leaders about hunger issues in Utica and about existing programs designed to address such needs. As a result of these meetings, members decided to focus on the phenomenon of increased food insecurity at the end of each calendar month when food stamps are exhausted and food pantry stocks grow thin. Startup funding was provided by the Levitt Center, whose Social Innovation Fellow Sam Carletta ’17 was the program’s pilot program organizer with Hagstrom.
The Harvest is operated by more than 30 students, Bon Appetit employees and physical plant staff. Food is packaged Saturday through Thursday, frozen into meals, and then delivered once a month to Johnson Park Center. These frozen meals are supplied to approximately 100 families at the end of the month to coincide with when Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits to families typically run out.
Understanding the potential of this program, Dizengoff stated that she “would love if more people were involved.” Students interested in donating time to this new and exciting program should send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For many years, Hamilton athletes have managed and operated another food salvage program called Hamilton vs Hunger. Lacrosse players Mike Fiacco and John DeGuardi ’16, the program’s two coordinators, are responsible for maintaining regular support from varsity team members and dining hall staff.
“Each week a different varsity team is responsible for packaging leftover food in McEwen dining hall and putting it in the refrigerator for Utica Rescue Mission to pick up,” DeGuardi explained. The Rescue Mission of Utica is a homeless shelter that provides comprehensive programming for the homeless population in Utica. “It is rewarding knowing that students are acquiring skills and ideas now about how to solve large-scale problems and how to get involved in community outreach efforts,” DeGuardi said. “By engaging with local communities, students are forced to face some of the big-picture issues that are occurring outside of campus life.”
Community initiative and hard work have been the necessary ingredients in establishing ongoing programs to minimize food waste and to assist others. In doing so, students engaged in programs like The Harvest and Hamilton vs. Hunger Hamilton have created stronger bonds with their extended community.