Volunteers outside of College Student Pantry. (Photos: Kenna Beban)

“So what I did is I made a salad with the greens,” said Ana Moritz, NYU senior and home chef. “This super fancy thing of greens that was all these different kinds of kale I’d never heard of. And I made a creamy dressing with mustard, egg yolk, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, some honey. And then I had those greens with chickpeas, I got a can of chickpeas. And I also got an apple, so I put apple in the salad.”

The best part about Moritz’s “pretty legendary” salad? “Literally everything was from the food pantry.”

Moritz is the student director of the College Student Pantry, which operates out of Trinity Lower East Side to hand out bags of groceries to anyone with a college ID. It is open every other Wednesday from 3-5 p.m. as part of the Lutheran church’s Services and Food for the Homeless (SAFH), using the supply chain and funding already in place to combat food insecurity in students. 

“The narrative of the broke college student that eats ramen every day isn’t romantic, it kind of sucks,” Moritz said. “You don’t have to be ‘starving’ or be at rock bottom to be food insecure. So it’s a much bigger problem than people would expect.” 

The ingredients for Moritz’s salad came from a fluorescent-lit, linoleum-floored side room off Trinity’s main building. Its walls are lined with shelves and fridges holding canned goods, rice and pasta, frozen meats, eggs and milk, fresh produce, and more that get picked clean by the end of SAFH’s daily food pantries. Volunteers use a point system to pack grocery bags with three days’ worth of food, making sure each one has proteins, grains, fruits and vegetables. 

“I have regulars,” said Moritz, who helped launch the College Student Pantry in early September. “Right away there was a consistent group of people that rely on this resource, and it hasn’t even been around for over a semester.” Between 25 and 40 students have shown up each time, coming from 12 different schools across the city, though mostly from NYU. 

“There’s this perception that NYU is full of rich kids that are extremely spoiled,” said Becca Speely, pastor of the campus ministry organization Prism and SAFH volunteer. “But I know that’s not true.”

Forty-four percent of four-year college students surveyed experienced some form of food insecurity, according to a 2019 report by the Hope Center. This can describe a variety of situations, including cutting portion sizes to save money, not being able to afford nutritionally balanced food, and skipping meals despite feeling hungry. 

Volunteers at College Student Pantry.

“There’s a huge amount of life experiences and struggles that different students are having,” said Speely. “It’s sort of a hidden face of hunger.” 

Mehrin Ali, NYU junior and Student Senator at-Large, is one of those faces. 

“Hey, can you swipe me in?” was a phrase Ali repeated time and time again during her first two years in college as she dealt with food insecurity. Even with her friends sometimes supplementing her six-meals-a-week dining plan with their extra swipes, Ali’s empty stomach soon evolved into something more. 

“It was so hard to focus, I was just constantly dizzy, sometimes nauseous, vision blurred,” Ali said. “You would’ve thought I was drunk.”

Normally an outstanding student, Ali found herself “having to ask for extensions, having to explain for myself and my behavior,” she said. Sometimes even raising her hand in class would make her dizzy — a frustrating experience overall, as “the whole point of coming here is to do well. That’s the whole point of school.” 

Pangs of hunger would follow her as she went to sleep and be there when she woke up in the morning. “You kind of just get used to this pain,” Ali said. “It’s just an awful experience.” 

Moritz had been through similar ordeals, replacing dinner with sleep and lunch with naps to stave off feelings of hunger. “A lot of people would consider that to be a choice,” Moritz explained, “but I think that’s an example of food insecurity that isn’t represented in a lot of depictions.”  

Much of what kept Ali, and others like her, from getting help was the stigma surrounding the issue. “You know that scene in the movies where you think everyone’s staring at you but literally no one’s looking at you at all? It’s almost like that,” Ali said. “So much shame.” 

Ali’s experience drove her to represent Students Experiencing Food Insecurity (along with Womxn of Color) in her role as a Student Senator at-Large, where she acts as a pipeline connecting students to administrators. 

“The overall sentiment is that NYU is not doing enough,” Ali said. “And I definitely agree.” 

When asked for comment, representatives of NYU sent back materials outlining the school’s nutritional support initiatives. The Courtesy Meals Program gives students 75 free dining dollars, initially with no questions asked (after several uses the student needs to meet with an administrator to review their financial records). There are also various meal plan scholarships as well as a Swipe it Forward program at two dining halls, allowing students to donate a meal swipe at registers.

“It’s kind of like talking to a wall,” Ali said about approaching the school with suggestions to reform their dining services. “It’s them saying ‘No,’ it’s them saying ‘Yeah, we’ll look into it,’ it’s them saying ‘We’ll talk to the higher-ups about it,’ a variation of anything like that…like being blown off.” 

Even with some options available, accessing aid isn’t always easy. Ali says students have described the process as an “interrogation,” saying they need to “explain themselves, explain their financial situation, explain that ‘I don’t know where my next meal was gonna come from.’ It takes a lot,” Ali said. “Takes a lot of vulnerability.” 

That’s where the College Student Pantry’s model can fit in; aside from asking for a college ID, they don’t question anyone that uses their services. “At a certain point, to get a lot of different types of aid, you have to prove that you’re broke,” Moritz said. “The ‘no questions asked’ builds a sense of trust.” 

Even with outside resources like the College Student Pantry, Speely thinks the primary responsibility should still lay on the school. “Obviously it’s not that easy to say, ‘Just feed them,’” Speely said, “but I do think they have a responsibility to make sure students are not going hungry while they’re NYU students. I think that’s an institutional obligation.” 

While the College Student Pantry isn’t technically affiliated with NYU, Moritz does still have the school in mind when it comes to the pantry’s purpose. 

“That definitely is the goal, to put pressure on the university to host a program like this in their own space,” Moritz said, suggesting that NYU should follow the lead of Hunter College, Pace University, and several other local schools that already host pantries geared towards their students (NYU did not respond to inquiries about why they haven’t).

“The end goal is to still have this resource for students across the city, but to also make NYU do their job and have a food pantry on campus as well,” Moritz said.  

If one thing is certain, it’s that Moritz would stock that pantry high with ingredients for legendary salads and beyond. 

“Going to a food pantry shouldn’t just be like, ‘Here’s my boring lettuce and cabbage and a bean.’ You should have fun stuff too, like raspberry apple juice,” Moritz said. “Everyone deserves that kind of stuff.”