In mid-March, the Arts Quad got a new spring decoration: numerous lawn signs displaying messages such as, “An average meal in Tompkins County is 17% more expensive than the national average” and “13.3% of children in Tompkins County are food insecure.” Though the news might be new to students, the signs are part of ongoing efforts to highlight the issue of food insecurity in Ithaca.
The signs were created and placed by Cornell Hunger Relief, a student-run organization which aims to play an active role in creating awareness about food insecurity and organizes projects like cooking meals at the Salvation Army and organizing food drives to combat hunger issues at Cornell and in the greater Ithaca community.
Each lawn sign had a QR code — which was linked to the organization’s Campus Groups page and contains information on CHR — accompanied by the phrase, “Let’s talk about it.”
CHR publicity chair Agnes Goldin ’23 designed the signs and said that they were intended to get people to learn more about CHR.
“I wanted to try and make them eye-catching, easy to read, but also enticing enough so students would scan the QR code and want to learn more about it,” said Goldin.
CHR’s initiative began after several board members attended the Food Systems Community Event at Ithaca’s Farmers Market on Sept. 29. At the event, they learned about the results of the Tompkins County Food System Baseline Assessment from the Tompkins Food Future team, a local food system planning initiative run by Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The assessment revealed new statistics on the current state of food systems in Tompkins County, including that 13.3% of children in Tompkins County are food insecure and 59% of food insecure people in Tompkins County earn above the poverty line.
The event shocked CHR members and convinced them that they needed to share the information they had learned with the Cornell community.
“My first reaction was, ‘everyone in the community needs to hear about this!’, which set the stage for this initiative,” said CHR President Clara Matton ’22.
After receiving approval from Tompkins Food Future to share the data, CHR booked the quad through 25Live to share their information about food insecurity through posting signs.
Molly Goldstein ’25 saw the lawn signs on the quad and said that she was shocked by how much food insecurity affects Tompkins County.
“I always knew food insecurity existed, however, I never realized how close to campus it was, especially since we are able to eat at our dining halls with such excess,” Goldstein said.
Continuing their effort to raise awareness with solutions, CHR held a meeting on March 29 to discuss the facts presented on the signs and possible ways to address local food insecurity. At the meeting, CHR emphasized the lack of participation in the many local organizations and initiatives dedicated to hunger relief.
“Since there’s a decline in the use of programs despite an increase in the population of food insecure people, I would say there’s a lot of barriers to applying and even stigmas to applying to these programs,” commented Matton at the meeting.
Among the issues CHR discussed was a lack of enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federal program that provides money for groceries to eligible citizens based on their income: in Tompkins County, only one third of food insecure individuals qualify for SNAP benefits. Similarly, of those Tompkins County residents eligible for the federal Women, Infants, Children program, which aims to provide nutritious foods to women and children, 62% are not enrolled. Participation in WIC in Tompkins County has declined since 2011 despite an increase in eligible families.
CHR members discussed the potential reasons behind these problems, including language and transportation barriers, stigmas surrounding food programs and a lack of awareness of existing organizations and resources.
In addition to starting a dialogue and raising awareness about food insecurity in Tompkins County, CHR hopes the signs will serve as a catalyst for change.
“Food insecurity is ever existent in our community, and I believe it gets overlooked,” Goldin said. “Individuals’ ability to secure both full and nutritious meals three times a day is a pervasive issue, even if food ‘appears’ to be everywhere, and this data illustrates this.”