Spotlight on Hunger

By Charles McKenzie, November 12, 2018
Ithaca College honors community members for their work to end hunger.

The United States is often seen as a land of abundance and opportunity, yet in 2017, 40 million Americans reported facing food insecurity. And Ithaca is not immune. This problem affects people in our own community, and even on the Ithaca College campus.   

A problem that exists at all levels requires solutions at all levels, so on Nov. 5, IC celebrated anti-hunger advocates and researchers who work on campus, in the Ithaca community and even across the region and academia. “The Community Honors: Spotlight on Hunger” event was held at Coltivare restaurant in downtown Ithaca. 

At the event, President Shirley M. Collado wished a “happy big 65th birthday” to emcee Jerry Dietz ’75, a longtime soldier in the fight against hunger, and he thanked her and IC for creating the event. He praised IC and the honorees for their perseverance, education, collaboration and “plain old boots-on-the-ground volunteerism.” 

“They are helping to mitigate hunger in all of its forms, wherever it might be found. In each of them beats the heart of a cathedral builder,” he said, comparing them to the laborers from all walks of life who dedicated their lives to building massive, ornate cathedrals, knowing they would never see the finished product. “They believed in it so much that their belief became contagious.” 

This was certainly true for featured speaker Emily Francis ’15, who “caught the bug” as a student on an Alternative Spring Break trip to Washington, D.C.’s Capital Area Food Bank.   

Chopping onions, packing grocery bags, loading trucks — the work was grueling, but she loved every minute of it. 

“To Don Austin and IC’s Office of Student Engagement, thank you so much for that experience,” she said. “It is absolutely the reason that I now work at that same food bank. I really want to be part of the solution to alleviating hunger, and I have the best job there is.” 

That job is as the foundation relations associate and grant writer for the largest anti-hunger organization in the D.C. region. Last year, the organization served 32 million healthy meals to half a million people.  

“All of the work I did with IC’s Mock Trial Club and all of the time writing stories in the Park School really prepared me for what I do now,” she said.  

“We are seeing a huge increase in working families. Even two working parents, they still can’t afford to feed their children,” she said. “Hunger is always closer to home than we think.” 

That is certainly true in Ithaca and the Southern Tier, as well as on campus. 

Meet the Honorees

The night’s first honoree was IC’s Food for Thought, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Started by Elizabeth Stoltz ’13, the student organization is dedicated to serving children around the world who are denied access to basic living necessities, a quality education and proper nutrition. The award was accepted by Rilya Greeslamirya ’20. 

Unagh Frank ’20 helped bring Swipe Out Hunger, a new program that allows students to donate guest passes from their meal plan to other students who are facing food insecurity, to IC. So far, the organization has donated almost 700 meals. 

“In Judaism, one of the highest levels of charity is when the giver and the recipient are unknown to each other,” Frank said. “This is one of the values Swipe Out Hunger is based on.” 

Honoree IC Mobile Food Pantry was represented by one of its campus organizers, Barbie Bargher, an assistant director in the Office of Student Financial Services, who is also involved in Swipe Out Hunger. The traveling pantry brings free groceries for any members of the IC community who are facing food insecurity. Since March of 2017, they have served 1,900 faculty, staff and students.  

A team of three IC professors was honored for their research and for creating a school curriculum around food security. Amy Frith and Julia Lapp, both associate professors in IC’s  Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education, and Alicia Swords, associate professor in IC’s Department of Sociology, wrote “Community Campus Collaboration for Food Justice: Strategies, Successes and Challenges at a Teaching-Focused College,” published in July. 

“Food dignity is really important,” said Frith. “What does that look like? To me, ownership, control, power over your own food. That’s what this was about. Finding those community-based programs that give people back the power.” 

Although The Food Bank of the Southern Tier was the final honoree of the night, its work contributed in some way to all of the others, especially the mobile food pantry, which also delivers across the region. Named America’s Food Bank of the Year last year, it was represented by Natasha Thompson, president and CEO. 

“We can’t do this work alone. We really have to depend on our community partnerships. You all make our work possible. Our philosophy is ‘food brings people together.’ If we can use food as a catalyst for building community, there’s nothing we can’t do. No problem we can’t solve,” she said.  

The food bank’s BackPack Program sends home food for children who receive free or reduced-priced school meals. They too often lack proper nutrition during weekends and holiday breaks. The program is funded by Taste of the Nation, an annual fundraiser hosted by Ithaca College that will celebrate its 30th anniversary in June. Instrumental in the event are Dietz, and before she passed away in 2012, his late wife Judy Schapiro Dietz ’76.  

“IC has done such a tremendous job of embracing this concept of food security,” Dietz said. “We both have to feed the people in the line and also have to shorten the line. At IC, you aren’t just bringing food to the needy. That’s important, but it’s more than that. It’s about reaching out and building relationships and becoming stronger as a community.” 

And that’s all according to plan, said Collado, both for the college and the community honors event, which she hopes will be annual, each year focusing on a different issue.  

“We ask what does it mean to be a private college that serves a public good?” Collado said. “I love that phrase: ‘Ithaca College will always be Ithaca’s college.’ That’s a title that we should earn. We need to be hyper vigilant. Not as a college on the hill that comes down and does nice things. We want to be learning, and to be a real partner and a neighbor and a presence in a really meaningful way. We want to deepen our connection to the community and really recognize the ways we partner together.”