February 15, 2024

Empire State University Launches Innovative Virtual Food Pantry

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY -- February 15, 2024) When SUNY funding was provided to address food insecurity among students by establishing on-campus food pantries, Empire State University faced a unique challenge. Basic Needs Coordinator Bethany Tatro and her team sprang into action to imagine what a food pantry would look like for SUNY Empire.  

“We were striving to find a way to fill that need in our own virtual way,” she said. “We’re looking at how we can get food to people before they are able to reach out to their community.” 

The virtual food pantry is designed to fill a one-time, emergency need for students and connect them with resources in their community that can be used as an ongoing support system – such as SNAP, WIC, and other local, brick-and-mortar food pantries.  

Set up as a personalized order system, students first apply to provide information to Tatro’s team about how many people are in their household and the type of emergency they have. Applicants are then sent a link to create a grocery cart online, through stores like Walmart or Amazon, with a budget based on their family size and USDA nutritional guidelines. 

“Part of the reason we structured it that way is because everybody has different brand preferences, taste preferences, and dietary needs,” said Executive Director of University Student Services Dan Greer. “We want to make sure that you're able to pick the food that works for you and your family.” 

“The advantage of the virtual food pantry for our students is the freedom of choice,” Tatro added. 

The grocery cart is then reviewed, submitted, and a convenient delivery time is worked out with the student. This setup allows for students’ needs to be immediately addressed. The pantry’s first student approached the Basic Needs team before it officially launched, and they had food within a few days. 

Development of the virtual food pantry started in early November, and the finished process was launched on January 26. The pantry saw 68 applications in the first few days alone. 

“The student response definitely shows that this was something that was needed,” said Tatro. 

Greer also noted that students can apply for other emergency financial grants to help them in a time of need. 

“People are getting the food they need to be able to ensure they can pay attention to their studies,” Tatro said. “That’s what the Basic Needs office is about -- helping people make sure they're not stressed about all the other things going on in their life.” 

For more information on student support, visit: https://www.sunyempire.edu/student-affairs/student-life/health-wellness/student-support/