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Keuka College Establishes Partnership with the Living Well

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Keuka College students, and members of the College's Students Helping Students (SHS) team, Ben Cacciaglia '19 (left), and Laura Sprague '19, pose with Eric Detar, College chaplain, and Sandi Perl '90, director of the Living Well, with the donations SHS collected for the food pantry at the Well. (photo provided)

Members of Keuka College’s Students Helping Students (SHS) team and the Living Well in Penn Yan recently began a partnership aimed at addressing food insecurity.

SHS is a select group of Keuka College students offering support to their fellow students who may be going through a crisis, one that could jeopardize continuing their studies at the College. The Living Well is dedicated to helping people in need by offering various forms of support to members of the community, including a food pantry.

According to data collected nationally from the 2018 Wisconsin HOPE lab study on Hungry and Homeless in College, 36 percent of university students suffer from both food and housing insecurities, while nine percent of students reported experiencing homelessness within the past year.

“If a student is facing food insecurity, it will be difficult for them to be successful,” says Eric Detar, College chaplain and co-advisor of SHS. “There is a lot of research out there that supports that, and the pantry is meant to help students until they find more sustainable support, such as at foodbanks or at the Well. We began to think about the work of the SHS team, and we felt that this partnership could fit with our mission.”

Food insecurity affects an estimated 40 million people in America, and it is a topic that the College is beginning to examine as a critical issue for students’ success and retention. The concern came to the attention of Eric and Dr. Sunny Winstead, assistant professor of occupational therapy and co-advisor of the SHS team, after they read an article about food insecurity among college students. 

That’s also when Eric, who serves on the board of the Living Well, began to think of the partnership. So, when Dr. Winstead and Eric approached Sandi Perl, director of the Living Well and a member of the Keuka College Class of 1990, with the idea of establishing a food pantry on campus, she expressed an interest in a partnership, as students from the College seek out food assistance at the Well.

“The Living Well’s mission is focusing on providing people with solutions so they can thrive,” say Sandi. “The Well is always looking for ministry opportunities to serve those in our community, and there has been a new focus on college campus food insecurity. The Well has the ability to support college students as they are focusing on their educational dreams.” 

After sharing the idea of the partnership with the SHS team, Eric says, the students were also enthusiastic in their support. To help educate—and bring awareness of the issue to the campus— SHS offered a webinar in the spring to the College community, focusing on food and housing insecurities among college students. 

And during the spring semester, the Living Well donated items to help establish the College’s food pantry. In turn, shortly before the end of the semester, SHS led a non-perishable food collection and donated items back to the Well, as a way to “pay it forward.”

The location of the College’s food pantry, inside the Commuter Lounge in Dahlstrom Student Center, was purposely thought out. 

“The commuter student population is the population most likely to be at risk [for food insecurity], as residential students have meal plans,” says Eric.“We do not have any applications or restrictions. If someone self-identifies as having need, they can go to the pantry for food.” 

Available items include soups, rice, macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, and instant potatoes. Snacks, toiletries, and laundry detergent may also be included.

Members of the SHS team will take inventory of the items on a weekly basis. A list will be passed along to the Living Well for replenishment. The Living Well has food donated regularly, and a private contributor has donated money specifically to assist the College with its food pantry. 

To make a donation to the College’s food pantry, items may be dropped off at the Center for Spiritual Life office, located in Dahlstrom Student Center, Room 40. Donations also may be dropped off at the Living Well, 121 E. Elm St. in Penn Yan.

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