Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The Food Recovery Network’s vision for the future of campus food security

The newly revitalized group has bold long-term plans
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash by Aaron Doucett

The University of Massachusetts’ Food Recovery Network (FRN), a registered student organization (RSO) that donates leftover, safe-to-consume food from dining commons, has recently resumed activity on campus.

The volunteer group has ambitious long-term goals to end food insecurity among UMass students. Three main initiatives that they are passionate about establishing are Swipe Out Hunger (SOH), a large-scale food bank and on-campus redistribution.

Grace Cipollone, FRN’s food safety coordinator and a UMass junior majoring in biology and Spanish, explained the objective of the RSO’s long-term goals. “We really are trying to take a holistic approach and … demonstrate that we do have a focus on intersectionality,” she said.

In aid of their intersectional approach, FRN hopes to promote collaboration among service groups on campus. Maggie Norton, FRN’s social media manager and junior majoring in journalism and anthropology, explained that the efforts of many service and advocacy organizations, including MASSPIRG, the Center for Education Policy & Advocacy, Alpha Phi Omega and the Student Government Association, are closely aligned. Therefore, she said that it is a goal of FRN’s to work with other service organizations and to advance each other’s efforts.

“There’s a little bit of a disconnect. A lot of us are doing the same work on the ground… Like, CEPA’s campaign this semester is actually food justice,” Cipollone added, “We are really trying to work to build those connections now, because there [is] strength in numbers and we want to work together.”

The groups have already started to collaborate this fall. Cipollone said, “so [the Undergraduate Services Committee of the SGA], CEPA and Alpha Phi Omega, along with Jack [Minella, president of] FRN—we met with the Dean of Students with a focus on addressing food insecurity on campus specifically.”

The groups presented their case for SOH at that meeting, and Dean Cardoso-Erase told the students that she would endorse SOH in a meeting with UMass Dining soon after but that the decision on the matter is ultimately Dining’s.

Swipe Out Hunger is a nonprofit in the United States and Canada that addresses food insecurity on college campuses and is currently implemented at over 600 institutions. Cipollone explained, “They work with students and reluctant administrations to find a compromise that works for everybody in terms of donating swipes, because we do understand that dining is a major source of revenue for a lot of institutions… they also offer grants for things like swipe drives or food pantries.”

Cipollone continued, “It would cause $0 for us to implement…Basically students would be able to donate a limited number of their leftover meal swipes to a swipe bank for students who run out of swipes or are in need of swipes to access as needed. A concern of Dining in the past has been students with unlimited plans doing like 500 swipes.”

“You know we understand that dining is an industry and needs to make money as well. But if students can donate, say like five to ten swipes each, it’s limited. Those swipes are already paid for. It’s going to cost dining nothing,” Cipollone added.

“We are number one dining with four dining halls, two of which are open until midnight. Dining is a paramount part of the social atmosphere at UMass. If students don’t have access to a swipe plan, they’re going to be… isolated in a large community,” she remarked.

The initiative also has the support of UMass students. Cipollone said that FRN collected data from about 150 UMass students; about 88 percent said they would be in favor of implementing the program, while the other 12 percent said that they would just need more information.

“I’m concerned about the longevity,” Cipollone noted about SOH. “While it is also a great program and would help a lot of students, we ideally want to get as close to eliminating student hunger as possible, which would really only be possible like with a large-scale food pantry.”

Before the Covid-19 lockdown, UMass had a campus food pantry in Bartlett Hall, run by the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega (APO).

According to Cipollone, the pantry was a space that SGA let APO use, but it was reclaimed post-Covid, because the space director said that food-related spaces were no longer permitted in Bartlett.

Last year, Cipollone met with previous interim Dean of Students Evelyn Ashley and Associate Director of Student Activities and Involvement Lloyd Henley to discuss reestablishing a campus food pantry and both told her that no other spaces were available for a food pantry.

She then emailed several other student organizations, and was able to connect with Prisha Dayal in CEPA to ask if CEPA’s office could hold a few shelves of nonperishables. As a part of their current food justice campaign, CEPA is now working through the steps to establish a nonperishables space in their office.

On how SOH and a campus food pantry are connected, Cipollone said that since SOH supplies grants for campus food security initiatives, “There’s a lot of discussion about grant funding and how we can make this a more long-term effort. Notably in opening up a more sustainable campus food pantry than what even APO used to run, ideally…we want refrigeration, we want to become a member agency with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.”

The food pantry is also an initiative that has student support—FRN ran a petition last spring that, within two weeks of campaigning, received about 600 student signatures.

In order to advance both of these projects, the main group that FRN needs to come to an understanding with is UMass Dining.

When asked for his opinions on these goals, Director of Dining Services Garret DiStefano said, “we’re always open to new ideas and how we could potentially support students who are food insecure…we have, like I said, a number of different programs that have come into play” … “And I think communication is really critical about that” he added. DiStefano also remarked that Umass has discounted meals and a supplemental meal program, and wants to ensure these programs are, “being utilized to the fullest extent.”

Cipollone and Norton responded that they believe UMass’s current food security programs are not enough. For example, Cipollone said, “three-day emergency meal swipes—great if you’re in a crunch, but they don’t account for the long-term problem.” “Students are] going to be food insecure, like, a week after that, like three days even maybe after they put in for those emergency swipes,” she added.

DiStefano also listed the Amherst Survival Center as a currently available resource for students facing food insecurity. “Even though the survival center is off campus, it is still a very integral part.”

“We as an organization have been supporting them for many years.”

Cipollone did note that UMass has, in the past year, received state funding to address food insecurity on campus and donated much of that grant money to the Amherst Survival Center. She added, though, “I believe that the amount of times you can actually go pick up food from there per month is limited. So, it’s not like you can even have a steady stream of groceries from there.”

Norton expanded, “We support the Amherst Survival Center and all that they do. But we also note that a lot of students don’t have access to cars and the PVTA, though free, operates on a schedule; some people can’t make that schedule or go off campus to do stuff.”

Despite disagreements with Dining, Cipollone does “feel more hopeful” about making progress on these issues than she has in past years, as “Dean Cardoso-Erase also addressed that she believes that the school could be doing more, and that’s a tone change.”

Cipollone concluded, saying “[in the long term], we would like to return to redistributing food on campus. We used to have redistribution sites near the North apartments and University Villages, but post-COVID, Environmental Health and Safety demands a Servsafe kitchen.”

She added, “We were told by Garret DiStefano that we could not redistribute outside dining halls on the basis that it would de-incentivize students from swiping in,” countering that “[Food insecurity] would not be a concern to students with unlimited swipes. This would be more relevant to students on commuter plans or reduced plans.” Norton responded, “or have no plans at all.”

“We’re kind of just looking to maybe work with… EH&S and Auxiliary [Enterprises] to find a way to make an exception perhaps or just a different way for that to work on campus,” Cipollone said, “because we want this food to go back to UMass students.”

Annika Singh can be reached at [email protected].

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