by Barrett Seaman –
As colleges around the country strive to diversify their student bodies and recruit more who are the first in their family to attend college, they are finding that scholarships are often not enough to achieve success. Some students find that even with financial aid, they are forced to make choices between paying bills at home and eating. A recent study found that 36% of college students nationwide suffer from what is being called “food insecurity.”
Dobbs Ferry’s Mercy College campus is one of a growing number of schools to offer free groceries so that their students can eat properly and in some cases put food on the table for their families at home. This past year, a new MAV (short for Maverick, Mercy’s mascot) Market has provided the makings for over 3,500 meals for some 450 members of the campus community.
Not just any student can walk into the small pantry on the lower floor of Mercy’s Main Hall and grab a can of corn, a quart of milk or a protein bar. They must register, using their student IDs, and a MAV monitor will keep a record of items taken. Each food item is given a point value, and student clients are expected not to take more than the equivalent of nine meals a week.
Mary Sherman, who coordinates the pantry, says she has seen no evidence of people abusing the system. “What we see,” she said, “are people who are timid about taking food for themselves and their families.” First year student Je’laya Johnson, who works at the MAV to fulfill her community service commitment to the honors program she is in, says she is confident that no one will abuse the privilege—at least on her watch. “I am vocal,” she asserted.
In addition to basic foods, the MAV offers a limited amount of clothing for students anxious to make a good impression on a job interview. The pantry accepts donations of both clothing and food. Since October, outsiders, including the charity Feeding Westchester, have donated 1,500 pounds of food to the pantry.
Mercy has operated a similar pantry at its Bronx campus since 2017. Mary Sherman helped Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, a private school where full tuition, room and board is more than $60,000-a-year, set up a similar pantry. Brown University, among the Ivies, has one. All of the SUNY campuses are now required to offer free food for needy students.