April 14, 2010

Group Wants Big Red Bucks Donated at End of Semester

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Cornell Hunger Relief, a newly formed student-run organization, wants students to spend their leftover Big Red Bucks buy food for the poor at the end of the year.

According to Vishal Vijay ’13 and Jullia Park ’11, co-chairs of Cornell Hunger Relief, the goal of the organization is to “work toward alleviating hunger” for those less fortunate.

“Especially near the end and beginning of each month, poor families [within Ithaca] would run out of food to eat. Because of dignity issues [and] lack of transportation … rather than going to food pantries or soup kitchens, they would … ask for leftover food,” Park said.

While these families fight to put together a meal, hundreds of the University’s students waste or pointlessly spend hundreds of dollars worth of BRBs at the end of each school year, Park said. The BRBs do not carry over between school years.

“When kids have money left over, they go and buy a bunch of food … normally junk food to pig out over the summer,” Krista Molettieri ’12 said.

Cornell Hunger Relief has begun working with Cornell’s Public Service Center and the Ithaca Youth Bureau to implement a system for redirecting unused BRBs to a worthy cause within the framework of Cornell Dining’s policy, which voids BRBs at the end of the academic year.

“In my opinion, students don’t think about BRBs as actual money, so [they go] to waste,” Thu Nguyen ’11 said.

According to Richard Anderson, assistant director of Cornell Dining and Retail Services, unused BRBs revert back to the University so that the tax-exempt status of the program is maintained.

“The amount of BRBs that are reverted back to the University varies from year to year. It all depends on the spending habits of the students,” Anderson said.

But Anderson said students may not donate BRB directly to other organizations.

“While it is commendable to want unused BRBs donated to charitable organizations, this is not permissible under the current New York State tax laws,” Anderson said.

But instead of direct donations, Cornell Hunger Relief wants students to buy food items with their BRBs, then donate the food to charitable organizations.

According to Vijay, no campus organizations other than Cornell Hunger Relief are currently working to put unused BRBs to use.

“People have [gone to Cornell’s Public Service Center] with this idea in the past, but nobody has taken the initiative to actually get a campaign going,” Park said

Since Cornell Hunger Relief is still a new organization, Vijay and Park decided that the best way to make a difference given the limited time until the end of the semester is to organize a campus wide initiative urging students to spend their excess BRBs on food that can be collected and donated to starving Ithacan families.

According to Park, food items will be distributed to families in Ithaca that are not able to feed themselves. For privacy reasons, no public list of these families exists.

Mimi Melegrito, staff member of the Ithaca Youth Bureau, knows many of these families and said she will personally deliver the collected food.

Cornell Hunger Relief plans to place donation boxes outside Jansen’s Market in Noyes and Bear Necessities in the Robert Purcell Community Center. However, if the University does not allow such placement, donation bins will be set up on Ho Plaza and in Mann Library.

Currently, Vijay and Park are working with members of the Student Assembly on the possibility of drafting a resolution that mandates Cornell Dining to disclose exactly what it does with the funds garnered from excess BRBs. However, the University appears to want such information to remain confidential to students.

Original Author: Elaine Lin