Tuesday, 26 Sep 2023

A Food Pantry That Keeps Hunger at Bay for Needy College Students

Good morning. It’s Monday. Today we’ll look at food insecurity and college students — and a campus food pantry that’s open even during the summer. We’ll also meet the new chief of an often-secretive police unit.

Hashina Suny has seen things from both sides of the counter at the Purple Apron.

As an undergraduate at Hunter College, she took advantage of it. Now, three months after collecting her diploma, she is working there, keeping the door open for anyone with City University identification who comes in.

The Purple Apron is a food pantry for students facing food insecurity, a concern that became more apparent during the pandemic and, CUNY officials caution, has continued since infection rates dropped. “If you don’t have lunch or breakfast, it’s hard to fuel your body throughout the day,” Suny told me when I caught up with her last week. “This is going to help you stay more focused in classes.”

That echoed an idea discussed when the City College chancellor, Félix Matos Rodríguez, visited the Purple Apron last month with Leslie Gordon, the president and chief executive of Food Bank for New York City, a nonprofit that is the Purple Apron’s main supplier. Some 40 percent of CUNY students, about 110,000 students across 25 campuses citywide, live with “low” or “very low” food security, according to a 2022 survey.

That is within the range reported by broader studies that put food insecurity among college students nationally as high as 50 percent. Other research indicates that food insecurity affects academic success: Food-insecure students have a 3.33 grade-point average, while students who do not have to worry about food have a 3.51 average, according to a paper published in the journal Nutrients in 2018. A paper published last year in the journal Public Health Nutrition said food-insecure students were less likely to finish college.

CUNY officials note that half of their students come from households with incomes of less than $30,000, compounding the pressure of expenses like rent and transportation, which sometimes take priority in one of the highest-priced markets in the country.

CUNY began working with Food Bank for New York through Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy nearly 11 years ago. Since then, CUNY has tapped Food Bank’s operational knowledge to help open and stock on-campus pantries, including Hunter’s two Purple Aprons, one on its main campus on the Upper East Side, the other on its Brookdale campus between First Avenue and the Franklin D. Roosevelt in the East 20s.

Hunter keeps the one on the main campus open during the summer because, as Matos Rodríguez put it, “hunger is a year-round challenge” for those who wake up wondering how many meals they will have to skip. On the Purple Apron’s shelves are staples like milk, pasta and rice, as well as canned fruit, vegetables, fish and chili; Hunter officials say they plan to add cooking demonstrations on social media.

Suny — who also tends two freezers and a refrigerator for chicken and meat, with kosher and halal options often available — said the Purple Apron has steady customers, “even after the pandemic, even during the summer.”

“There are people waiting when I open the door at 9,” she said. “They don’t have time later in the day, so they come really early.”

Suny said she had been surprised by the distance some students travel. “There are students who come from different CUNYs,” she said. “I had this one student who told me he came all the way from Staten Island. I was like, that’s so far away. It was because they found out there was a food pantry.”

Suny herself turned to the Purple Apron during the pandemic. She had a part-time job at a T.J. Maxx store in Downtown Brooklyn, but she was furloughed as pandemic restrictions continued. “I didn’t have a job for a while,” she said, “and going to school, there were a lot of expenses. I was able to use the food pantry to get basic needs.”

Suny, who juggles her schedule at the Purple Apron with part-time work at a Walgreens in Brooklyn, said it was heartening to see the difference it makes for the students who come by.

“Food is very expensive in the city,” she said. “One meal is going to cost you $15 or $20 if you went out. That’s just for one meal, and $15 or $20, that’s working a whole hour. If you’re getting the food from the pantry, it’s free. You get to save some money, especially if you’re not working.”


It’s going to be a partly sunny day near the high 80s. At night, prepare for a chance of showers and thunderstorms, with temps reaching the low 70s.


In effect today. Suspended tomorrow (Feast of the Assumption).

The latest Metro news

This Summer’s Fights on the Beaches

Keeping watch against sharks: The city has stepped up shark-monitoring efforts after a rare attack at Rockaway Beach, deploying more drones, boats and helicopters.

Finding lifeguards: The Parks Department expanded its recruiting efforts because there was a shortage of lifeguards. Four rookies over the age of 64 were certified after the notoriously difficult training program; one is 70.

Arts & Culture

“Grounded in Clay”: Claudia Mitchell is one of 68 Pueblo potters, artists and cultural leaders organizing the first community-curated Native American exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Remembering John Barrett: The hairdresser whose clientele included the likes of Hillary Clinton, Princess Diana, Ethel Kennedy and Martha Stewart, died at 66.

2003 blackout weddings: Couples who married during the largest blackout in American history reflect on their chaotic yet fulfilling wedding days as they approach their 20th anniversaries.

The new chief of an often-secretive police unit

The police department’s counterterrorism bureau has a new chief, Rebecca Weiner, a 46-year-old lawyer who has worked for the N.Y.P.D. for 17 years.

She commands about 1,500 people spread across the city, among them dozens of analysts and hundreds of officers and investigators. Their responsibilities include watching for everything from bomb plots and mass shootings to spontaneous urban mayhem, like the social media streamer’s game console giveaway that drew thousands to Union Square this month.

Weiner is the unusual police official who does not have close ties to Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain. Weiner joined as a civilian junior analyst, not an officer on the beat.

She heads an often-secretive bureau that has been most visible when it has violated civil liberties, but Weiner told my colleague Maria Cramer that in the last decade, it had protected civil liberties conscientiously. Weiner said the bureau’s current focus is on stopping so-called lone wolves like the man who massacred Black residents at a supermarket in Buffalo and the truck driver who mowed down fatally eight people on a Manhattan bike path.

“The individual actor has been the biggest concern for a while,” said Weiner, adding that the threats facing the city include the Islamic State, right-wing extremists and accelerationists, a white supremacist movement that advocates overthrowing the government.


Marble Hill station

Dear Diary:

I was taking the M100 up Broadway from 187th Street to the Metro-North station at Marble Hill to catch a train to Westchester. I was on the bus because it was the weekend, and the No. 1 train was not running.

There was construction on Broadway, and it slowed the bus down. The driver announced that she would be making a detour at 207th street.

I decided to get off and run to the Metro-North station, which was at least a mile away. I had about eight minutes to make my train.

I started running, but I ran out of steam after a few minutes. Desperate, I stopped a young man on a scooter and asked for a lift.

He was surprised, but I explained that I could stand in front and that I needed to catch the train. To demonstrate, I got on his scooter. He was too nice to say no.

As we scooted north, I caught my breath. We crossed the Broadway Bridge leading to Marble Hill.

“I’m Jennifer,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“Joe,” he said.

“Thanks, Joe. You’re a good Samaritan.”

I looked down from the bridge. I did not see a train. A good sign.

Joe took me near the steps that go down to the train station. I thanked him and sprinted to the steps.

I could hear the sound of a train arriving at the platform. I ran down the steps and jumped through the train’s open doors.

I wish I had taken a photo of Joe, but I didn’t have time. Joe, if you see this, thank you so much for helping me catch that train.

— Jennifer Kim

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Hannah Fidelman, Johnna Margalotti and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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James Barron is a Metro reporter and columnist who writes the New York Today newsletter. In 2020 and 2021, he wrote the Coronavirus Update column, part of coverage that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service. He is the author of two books and was the editor of “The New York Times Book of New York.” More about James Barron

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