Cornell Hunger Relief’s tenth annual Big Red Food Drive will begin Saturday, May 6 and run through May 21. Throughout this allotted time period, students may donate non-perishable food items or contribute their unused Big Red Bucks to feed the local Ithaca community.
“[Through the Big Red Food Drive], students are able to learn about the issue of food insecurity in Tompkins County and work to address the issue through food donations,” said Olivia Kornstein ’23, volunteer coordinator for Cornell Hunger Relief.
Cornell Hunger Relief is a student-run organization supported by the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, which was developed to combat food insecurity in the Tompkins County community.
According to Cornell Hunger Relief co-presidents Catherine Diao ’24 and Kayla Hsu ’24, the Big Red Food Drive has been hosted at the end of each spring semester since 2012.
“The goals of the Big Red Food Drive are to educate students on hunger issues in Ithaca and Tompkins County, while providing them the opportunity to get involved in the effort to provide resources for these families in need,” Diao and Hsu wrote in a statement to The Sun.
To donate non-perishable goods, students can drop them off at collection bins in the lobbies of Robert Purcell Community Center and Noyes Community Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekends and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. during weekdays.
Non-perishable goods are products such as canned food and dried fruits that can be stored for a long period without refrigeration and are not prone to spoilage.
“Students can bring non-perishable food items to [RPCC and Noyes] and can purchase food items [with leftover BRBs] from Bear Necessities or Jansen’s to donate,” Kornstein said.
Cornell Big Red Bucks are dollar-for-dollar, tax-exempt funds in student meal plans that can be spent at Cornell establishments. Non-refundable and non-transferable, unused BRBs expire at the end of each spring semester.
“[This event will make] students more aware of how much of a waste unspent BRBs are,” Kornstein said. “The Big Red Food Drive is [also] a way to increase student engagement with the surrounding community.”
There were more than 10,940 food-insecure individuals in Tompkins County in 2020. However, 26 percent of these individuals are above the 200 percent poverty threshold, meaning they do not qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
“[Another] challenge that the food insecure population in Tompkins County is facing is the recent end to COVID-19 SNAP emergency allotments this February,” Kornstein said.
The emergency allotment SNAP benefits, which provided support on top of normal monthly SNAP benefits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, ended in February 2023 due to the elimination of federal funding. This reduction in benefits is expected to increase food insecurity for SNAP recipients, including in Tompkins County.
To help resolve these issues, Cornell Hunger Relief sends the Big Red Food Drive items to the Friendship Donations Network. Founded in 1988, the Ithaca-based food rescue organization collects and redistributes food to more than 2,000 people a week.
“Last year, we raised over 4,500 pounds of food which really helped to sustain the community throughout the summer and winter,” Diao and Hsu wrote.
According to Kornstein, Cornell Hunger Relief is also looking for additional volunteers to assist in their hunger relief efforts by tabling collection areas at RPCC or Noyes. Interested students must sign-up to table and watch a brief training video in advance. In their statement, Diao and Hsu concurred, emphasizing that they hope that volunteering will be an inspiration for students to join the fight against hunger and food insecurity.
“Through our volunteering opportunities, we hope to inspire students to take action against hunger, become more aware about the causes of food insecurity and increase their knowledge base on how we can help,” Diao and Hsu wrote.
This year, they said they hope to collect even more food and spread word of the event through social media.
“We are so excited for this year’s BRFD,” Diao and Hsu wrote. “We feel like we made a meaningful impact on the community last year, and we hope to continue to help in any way we can.”