The Ninth Annual Big Red Food Drive is now accepting non-perishable items as food donations in the lobbies of the Noyes Community Center and Robert Purcell Community Center to donate to Friendship Donations Network — a program that distributes food to mutual aid programs across Tompkins County — from May 7-22.
By allowing students to use their leftover Big Red Buck’s — money in student meal plans that can be spent at Cornell establishments — at the end of the semester to buy food and donate it, BRFD organizers hope to prevent waste and help those experiencing food insecurity.
BRFD is organized by Cornell’s Hunger Relief, a campus program committed to fighting food insecurity on campus run by the organization’s advisor and Assistant Director of Student Programs Joyce Muchan, president Clara Matton ’22 and like-minded students.
According to Logan Morales ’22 — co-chair of the Cornell Dining Department and Student Manager of Bear Necessities and Jansen’s Market — food insecurity can manifest in many ways at Cornell.
“When most people think of food insecurity, they think of people who can’t afford to buy food, but in the reality of a student there can be many more reasons,” Morales said. “Not having enough time in the day to stop at dining halls, coming home after the dining halls are closed, extensive dietary restrictions –– all of these things can contribute to student food insecurity on campus.”
The schedules of busy students often coincide with the operating hours of dining halls, which contributes to food insecurity according to Carlene Mwaura ’24.
“I have experienced insecurity in the way that I am so busy during the day that when I come back home at night all of the dining halls are closed, and I am either forced to buy dinner with cash or BRBs or wait until the next day,” Mwaura said.
Even with cash and BRBs, food options are not always optimal for students desiring a more diverse or specific diet.
“The food provided is better this year [than last year during the pandemic] but there are still so few options that as a vegan, I am eating mostly carbs like rice or pasta,” Alana Berry ’24 said. “If you don’t have a car living on North [Campus], being vegan [and] eating a balanced diet is really hard.”
Some students expected Cornell University to be a change of pace from their food insecurity in previous environments, but Mwaura said that she still faces similar challenges.
“I thought that when I came to Cornell my food insecurity would be removed, but I am forced into similar circumstances that I had back home where I eat infrequently,” Carlene Mwaura added.
Despite these challenges, the BRFD focuses primarily on the greater Tompkins County community, with other initiatives serving students at Cornell, such as the Swipe Out Hunger program, which allows students to donate 2-4 guest swipes at the beginning of each school year to go to food insecure students.
But, these programs still don’t serve food insecure students as much as needed, according to Morales.
“It is a good program, but it needs to be expanded significantly. I think that we could also implement a system where we donate unused meal swipes at the end of each week to students to provide more meals for students,” Morales said. “All of these meal swipes are already paid for, for them to go unused is only profit for Cornell.”
Morales said he thinks more work is needed to end food insecurity on campus, and has suggested the implementation of food lockers.
“We are working with the Dining Services and Cornell Dining Management to create food lockers that would have food bags [a full meal where students could swipe in],” Morales said. “This would be helpful for students short on time, and would be great to battle food insecurity. Central campus is a food desert because there is only one place that can serve food with meal swipes.”
With many plans in place among existing organizations to combat food insecurity on campus, the BRFD is a chance for students to get involved and show support. Students are encouraged to share their extra BRBs at the end of the semester on extra non-perishable foods at convenience stores on campus, and are provided easy access to collection bins outside of Bear Necessities and Jansen’s.
“Many students are either unaware or unconcerned with the fate of their BRBs,” Matton, the president of Cornell Hunger Relief, said. “A key aspect of our preparation involves informing students that their unspent BRBs will not roll over to the fall semester after May 30 — instead, they are returned to Cornell.”
Students can do more than donate food to support this program — they can also donate their time by volunteering to monitor the donation sites.
Through volunteering and donating to the BRFD, students can make a great impact, but these concerns of food insecurity go beyond the fifteen days of collection.
“Programs like the Big Red Food Drive are extremely important in raising awareness of the fact that food insecurity is not some far off social problem, but rather an issue that deeply affects those that live among us,” Morales said. “These programs help pop the bubble that many Cornellians live in and show students that not only does food insecurity affect the people we know, but also that there’s something we can do about it.”