As Ithaca began to creep into isolation alongside the rest of New York State, Cornell partnered with the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and Food Bank of the Southern Tier to run a food pantry that serves thousands of meals.
The pantry opened for the first time on March 31 outside of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center’s gym in downtown Ithaca. Open to the greater Tompkins County community, the initiative plans to indefinitely continue every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m.
The decision to pair Cornell with the Food Bank of the Southern Tier “seemed like the perfect opportunity to fulfill our mission in another way, and to serve the people we know are in need in our community,” said Leslyn McBean, an executive director at GIAC, in an interview with The Sun.
For Cornell and the food bank, the partnership came as a result of the opening of the on-campus Cornell Food Pantry in fall 2019. Having already established “a good working relationship,” the two paired with GIAC to open the downtown location, said Mark Miller, a Cornell Dining manager.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 also helped coordinate the new program, tweeting that he and his team “worked with Cornell to set up an additional emergency food pantry.”
“If you need food, please visit the basketball court,” Myrick wrote.
According to McBean, the pantry’s first day was a “resounding success.” The event was managed by Cornell staff, who handed out boxes of meals consisting of enough food to feed a family of four for three days.
“We were very happy with how it went for our first day,” Miller said, who noted that Cornell staff were able to distribute 360 boxes — totalling almost 13,000 meals — to local Ithacans.
According to Amanda Palme, programs and partnerships manager for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, Cornell Dining has played an important role in the on-site effort to help the community by providing much-needed staffing.
“They truly believe in the community of Ithaca and the people who live there,” Palme said. “That’s very telling of where their heart is at.”
According to Cornell Catering chef Letty Andrade, the reality of community members and families suddenly finding “themselves without some if not all of their income” pushed many to help provide for their neighbors.
With many of Cornell’s eateries closed, the pantry has also helped dining staff stay occupied amid a nearly empty campus.
“This is helping us keep more people busy,” Andrade said.
Although the number of community members served is set to grow as more Ithacans hear about the food pantry, McBean said GIAC hopes to devise ways to reach out to even more of the community.
“There are some folks, particularly seniors, that are not able to come out and get a box of food, so we are trying to organize how we can deliver,” McBean said.
The teams also found new challenges with the downtown pantry’s first week. For one, they discovered a need to provide alternatives for those who are wheat or dairy intolerant, as well as smaller packages for community members who only need to feed themselves, according to Miller.
But with unemployment continuing to skyrocket across the state, there is no closing day in sight for the downtown pantry.
“Everyday is a new day, you never know what’s going to come,” McBean said, adding that GIAC plans to maintain the pantry “as long as people need during this crisis.”