In April 2016, the School of General Studies Student Council (GSSC) announced that it was committing an initial $1,000 to the creation of a food bank for undergraduates at Columbia, addressing the problem of food insecurity that has been a longstanding concern for a significant number of Columbia students. Speaking to the Columbia Spectator in September, University Senator Raymond Curtis, GS ’18, outlined the expansive ambition of the initiative, saying, “This isn’t just about feeding you today, this is about setting you up so that you don’t have to think about food and can focus on what you’re supposed to be focused on here, which is your education and your experience at Columbia. We don’t want hunger to be a part of that experience.” The program was launched after months of planning and research, and to date, GSSC has spent just over $6,000 of its own funds on establishing and sustaining it. Curtis, speaking at a GSSC meeting on October 11, asserted that the Food Bank would be available to all undergraduates.
Located in Lewisohn, the Bank encourages students facing food insecurity to get in touch in order to receive a disbursement of food that is subject to the resources on hand and their own dietary needs. Strict confidentiality is maintained for all students who solicit the Food Bank’s support, and the food on hand is furnished by both donations and funds from what relevant GSSC members hope will soon be all four undergraduate student councils. To date, however, Columbia College Student Council has only committed $1,500 to the Bank, while support from the SEAS student council has been similarly absent. Due to its current inconvenient location, the managers of the Food Bank have emphasized their need for a larger space, and hope to secure a space in Lerner, where they can be most effective. This well- intentioned objective faces stiff competition however, as demand for space in Lerner is, as always, hotly contested.
Alternative measures to combat the problem of food insecurity have existed for some time: Columbia Dining’s Emergency Meal Fund unconditionally provides six free meal tickets to all students, but members of GSSC quite rightly felt that this solution was not effective enough, as many students’ needs far exceed this number, and dining halls are not available during periods such as Thanksgiving, when many affected students remain on campus. CCSC hoped that the issue would be rectified through the implementation of “Swipes,” an app designed by Julio Henriquez CC ’18 and Helson Taveras CC ’18. Swipes aims to, as Henriquez told the Columbia Spectator, “sidestep the administration completely,” though usage of the app has not quite become widespread enough for it to be a sufficiently potent remedy to the problem.
The problem of food insecurity is almost universally acknowledged on campus–the Facebook page CU Meal Share has over 2,250 members, while CCSC’s support of initiatives such as “Swipes” and the administration’s own Emergency Meal Fund sug- gest that they too are aware of the problem. GSSC’s Food Bank is one of the most promising initiatives to date, but without adequate logistical and financial support from all councils, the problem of food insecurity will continue to vex our community