November 22, 2013
Students fill up for hunger
College collects $1,300 as part of effort to raise awareness about poverty
Chants of “hunger ends here” and “end hunger now” blared across West Court Street Thursday afternoon, as nearly 60 students from SUNY Cortland shaped themselves into a human chain, passing donated food, cash and spare change hand over hand in a show of solidarity aimed against hunger, inequity and poverty.
The spectacle was entitled, “Fill The Bowl” and was run by students of Professor Caroline Kaltefleiter’s Communication and Social Change class.
By design, the event was planned months ago to coincide with National Hunger and Homelessness Week, with all of the over $1,300 raised during student’s hour-long efforts on West Court Street, and a week of bowl-filling on campus in the run-up to Thursday’s collection went to benefit Loaves and Fishes, a soup kitchen that operates out of Grace Episcopal Church on Court Street.
“It’ll go to ongoing expenses, buying food,” said Loaves and Fishes Director Kim Hill. “Right now during the holidays it’s a big help.”
Now in her 12th year at SUNY Cortland, Kaltefleiter said that this was the first time that she has had the chance to teach this class and sponsor the event, though she plans to keep it going in the coming years.
“This isn’t just a one-off,” said Kaltefleiter. “We’re going to continue to do this because the need is so great.”
“As Cortland students, we’re not just here for four years and then we leave,” said Lauryn Lecero, a senior communications major who participated in Thursday’s event. “We actually care.”
“This is the first time I’ve stood in line and chanted before,” added Alexandra Gallagher, a junior communications and public relations major. “I feel like I’m part of one of those important movements.”
Cortland County’s 16.2 percent mark surpasses the state’s average of 15.1 percent of individuals living in poverty according to the New York State Community Action Association’s 2013 poverty report, compiled using a three-year aggregate of statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey.
Though Cortland’s 17.4 percent rate of poverty in children under the age of 18 was lower than the state average by 3.8 percent, the pair of numbers is still unacceptable, said Kaltefleiter.
“Where are we going to be in another five years,” she asked. “How are these people going to be fed?”
Compounding the issue of hunger and poverty in the county are reductions in funding to the federal government’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, which took effect Nov. 1 and cut monthly subsidies for a family of four by around $36 nationwide. This translates into about 21 individual meals per month, according to the Department of Agriculture.
“If you have such a large population that qualify for free and reduced (lunches), what are those kids suppose to do when they’re not in school?” asked Ann Marie Phelps, Community Services Director of Catholic Charities of Cortland County.
To bridge the gap left by the reductions, many individuals are turning to local food pantries and soup kitchens. Hill said that because of the cutbacks, things have been busier than usual at loaves and fishes, which serves meals daily.
“We’ve been getting hit pretty good,” Hill said. “We’re getting people coming in that we’ve never seen (before).”
Phelps said that she too has seen an increase in families and individuals seeking aid.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the cuts in benefits or because its the start of the heating and holiday season,” Phelps said. “But people are all talking about the cuts in their food stamps. Internally, we talk about how food pantries are not going to be able to cover those cuts.”
In response to the decrease in SNAP benefits, Phelps said Catholic Charities is pushing information about the Foodsense program, which provides people with units of food which can be purchased with either cash or food stamps.
“For $15.50, you’re getting close to $30 worth of food,” Phelps said.
Included in each unit, is beef, chicken, turkey, eggs and fresh produce and fruit.
Though their efforts on Thursday undoubtedly helped, hunger and poverty in the county remain a lingering issue, said Kelly Sutliff, a senior communications major present at the event.
“When does it ever stop,” she asked. “I’m proud of what we did, but I hope it continues.”
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