Members of the Colgate Community have initiated efforts to raise money in support of the Hamilton Food Cupboard in light of economic struggles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 27, the Colgate Hunger Outreach Program (CHOP) and Marlee Senderowitz, an employee of national brand University Tees, have collectively raised over 3,000 dollars for the food cupboard. CHOP’s fundraiser began April 24 and will end May 8 while Senderowitz’s effort ran from April 14 to April 27. Senderowitz and CHOP did not collaborate.
CHOP is a program sponsored by Colgate’s Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE). Sarah Sparber has worked in the COVE for five years and serves as the Team Advisor for CHOP. According to Sparber, CHOP works with the Hamilton Food Cupboard and the Friendship Inn soup kitchen in Hamilton along with the Friendship Inn soup kitchen in Morrisville to tackle local food security issues.
Junior Emma Rainer explained that although the club has 200 students that receive CHOP emails, they have 10-20 active members and a team of five leaders. Sophomores Lucas Rondan, Riley Ezralow and Libby Lindstrom along with juniors Emma Rainer and Bridgette Yang make up the leadership team. Each one of those leaders is assigned to a location; sophomores Libby Lindstrom and Riley Ezralow work directly with the Hamilton Food Cupboard. Ezralow explained that she and Lindstrom help the pantry with whatever they need, including organization, support and gathering donations. Sparber emphasized that all leaders are involved in planning and executing CHOP events.
Sparber explained that the students were in the early stages of planning for a fundraiser when Colgate students were sent home from campus via email on March 12. Sparber said senior Ryan de Silva, who was still on campus, reached out to CHOP because he wanted to help with local food insecurity but was unsure of how to proceed.
“After talking with him and the student leaders, we came up with a virtual fundraiser using Colgate’s Touchnet site” Sparber said. “The site is wonderful because it allows students to donate with gate card or credit card.”
Rainer explained that the team met on Zoom to share ideas and decide the best platform for the project. She said that they hoped the ability to use gate cards would encourage students to use their extra funds left on the cards.
“From there, we asked COVE interns to create a poster that they could then distribute on the class [Facebook] pages, COVE social media and COVE newsletter. Getting the word out to as many people as possible is key,” Rainer said.
According to Sparber, the group originally planned to sell items on campus and split the profits between the three organizations. Sparber explained that the only difficult decision was deciding how to distribute the funds.
“We decided to donate all of the funds to the Hamilton Food Cupboard because they are still open and serving the public during this pandemic. Both Friendship Inn soup kitchens are currently closed, as are the churches they run their agencies out of,” Sparber said.
Rainer explained that the group knew from working with the food cupboard in the past that they value monetary funds as it is more efficient for them to purchase directly from the Central New York (CNY) Foodbank.
Separately, Senderowitz was a student at Georgia Tech when she applied to be a Campus Manager at University Tees. According to Senderowitz, University Tees is a company that creates personalized t-shirts and gear for colleges and universities and has relationships with campuses across the country. She explained campus managers are responsible for reaching out to organizations, usually on their campus, to design t-shirts for events and fundraising efforts. Managers are paid for their work based on commission.
Although she graduated last May, Senderowitz has continued to sell t-shirts and was inspired when a Campus Manager at the University of Delaware organized a fundraiser for their local food bank.
“[The fundraiser] did amazingly. People miss being on campus so having shirts that remind them of Hamilton while also supporting a charity seems like a win-win” Senderowitz said. “I was planning on doing a similar order just for my school, then realized I could also do this at some of my friends’ schools where University Tees doesn’t have much of a presence.”
Senderowitz explained that she reached out to Colgate alumna Molly Diamondstein ’18 who gave her the names of local bars, restaurants and businesses. She then put together the logos and requested the proof from University Tees, which has a full time graphic design staff. Senderowitz explained that the University Tees philanthropy program allows for 10 percent to go to a charity. She also clarified that a portion of the total donation comes from her commission and part comes from the company’s profits.
“The other great thing is that 10 percent of the entire sale is donated, not just 10 percent of the profits. Within the past month, University Tees has been able to donate over [100 thousand dollars] to COVID relief organizations” Senderowitz said.
She then chose the Hamilton Food Cupboard off of a Google search.
“To be completely honest, I Googled charities in the Hamilton area and the food cupboard came up. I chose it because I know times are extremely tough for many right now, so donating to this organization would make the greatest difference in my opinion,” Senderowitz said.
Senderowitz has organized similar efforts for her alma mater, Georgia Tech, along with Georgetown University and Mercyhurst University.
Both leaders explained what their fundraisers entailed. Team leader Lucas Rondon explained that CHOP’s fundraiser consists of the poster and hyperlink for members of the community to donate. This fundraiser will end May 8 and the link to donate can be found here.
“All the proceeds will go to the Hamilton Food Cupboard for them to have supplies and food. We’ve raised just over 450 dollars and we think we are very successful, as we still have a few days left!” Rondon said.
Both Sparber and Rainer echoed feelings of success. Sparber shared that they have raised money for the Hamilton Food Cupboard in the past, but were “not as successful as this one has been.”
Senderowitz’s effort consisted of a clothing order with the options of t-shirt, four different sweatshirts and a pair of joggers. Senderowitz explained that once an order is placed, it is made in Cleveland, Ohio, where the University Tee’s headquarters is located. She, too, shared feelings of success.
“This fundraiser has been extremely successful. I want to thank each and every person who ordered. Within the first 24 hours, we raised 700 dollars for the food cupboard” Senderowitz said.
The fundraiser closed on April 27 and Senderowitz confirmed that the effort raised a total of 2,554.56 dollars. Senderowitz due to this order’s success, she organized a new order that launched today, May 4. The order includes new merchandise such as a new sweatshirt design, new shirt colors, a water bottle and a poster version of the design. Senderowitz says she plans to close the link on May 5, but she may extend it based on the popularity of the sale. The link for the order can be found here.
Leaders of both efforts emphasized the importance of supporting the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rondon, Rainer and Ezralow specifically spoke to the importance of supporting the Hamilton Community.
“With many out of work, we hope this fundraiser can help provide food as well as just general support to the community we all love so much,” Ezralow said.
Sparber said that the CHOP fundraiser means a great deal to her personally, as well.
“Hamilton is my home. The food cupboard serves my community and my neighbors,” Sparber said. “This group of students is great and very dedicated to helping their community partners while on campus and away.”
Senderowitz said she wanted to give back to communities amid the pandemic, so used her love of creating t-shirts to do so.
“Selling t-shirts is something I not only extremely enjoy doing, but is also something that has the ability to raise a great amount of money, while also advertising local businesses,” Senderowitz said.
Senderowitz and Sparber said the money raised from both efforts will be sent to the food cupboard as a check. These checks will come from University Tees and Colgate’s accounting office.
Director of the Hamilton Food Cupboard Suzanne Collins is in her 10th year of directing the food cupboard. According to Collins, the food cupboard feeds about 150 families a month and offers cleaning supplies, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, produce, protein, dairy, grains and more. The food cupboard officially covers the Hamilton and Madison School districts, however it is ‘client-choice,’ which, Collins as explained, means they do not require ID or proof of residency to get food.
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cupboard has gone from only letting one family member inside, to stopping people at the door where they choose what they need for volunteers to package, to pre-packing boxes to deliver directly to cars. Collins said she lost almost every one of her volunteers, including a nine-year volunteer who recently passed from COVID-19, so she has recruited members of the Hamilton community who are no longer working in the pandemic. She also said she lost two major donation relationships with Price Chopper and Big Lots. Collins herself tested positive for COVID-19 but has since recovered.
“It’s very sad to me because it was very empowering for them to be able to pick out their own stuff. I just feel bad. The process…it sucks and it’s degrading in many ways,” Collins said. “I wish I could change it and my plan is to change it as soon as we can kinda open up. I would really like to be able to let them in and pick out their own stuff because I think they deserve to do that.”
Collins said the two major changes she has noticed in her customer base is the older customers are staying home, when they can, and customers have mistakenly assumed that the food cupboard was closed with New York’s state-wide shut down. Collins and her staff have begun calling regulars they have not seen in a while as well as making deliveries to those that need it. While last month the cupboard staff delivered to three people who were recommended to stay home by their doctors, this month they have made 15 or 18 deliveries.
“I have a lady that lives in a trailer park and she’s 94. I called her to see how she was doing and if she needed anything, and she did not even think we were open. She made a bee-line down here to pick up her food,” Collins said. “We have seen an increase in new people. A lot of the people that are new said we have applied for unemployment but we haven’t got it. The employment thing has been a huge issue, they’re just waiting on it.”
Collins said she learned about the efforts by CHOP and Senderowitz after the efforts were already launched. She said she has worked with COVE groups in the past and thinks their work is great, however she has not worked with University Tees or Senderowitz, and it was a business person that forwarded her the link when Senderowitz reached out to local businesses. She said Senderowitz never contacted her, so she called her to make sure the fundraiser was valid.
Senderowitz said she did not realize she had to reach out to the food cupboard, but partially understands Collins’s concern.
“Honestly I didn’t think I really had to. I was hosting a fundraiser and going to donate to a charity. I didn’t know I had to, I guess, ask them to donate,” Senderowitz said.
Collins explained that she is fine with the fundraiser, but wanted to ensure it was not a scam.
“Sometimes that stuff catches me off guard, especially with something like that. You don’t know if it’s valid. I appreciate the effort, absolutely,” Collins said. “When I get stuff like this, it’s like you walking in the door to [a] surprise party. So who’s not happy about that? It’s awesome. I appreciate the effort anyway it happens.”
Collins said that right now, she doesn’t know how she will use this money. She said she is concerned the CNY Food Bank will not have enough food available, after not being able to get a few food items, like spaghetti, in a recent order.
“When you see stuff like that and hear about the meat shortages, that’s what I worry about looking forward. I know it’s going to go somewhere – we do a summer lunch program for the kids too. We might use it towards that. We may use it towards produce,” Collins said.
Collins also said that she has partnered with Hamilton Whole Foods to purchase cleaning supplies, and that is another way she could potentially use the money. After receiving a grant from the Community Foundation, she partnered with Hamilton Whole Foods to avoid clearing out local supplies.
“That’s kind of a win-win for me. They can order it and I don’t have to clear the shelves locally from Kinney’s, or whatever. It is a really good partnership. Hamilton, as you know, is an awesome area. There’s no end to being amazed,” Collins said.
She also expressed hope that the community can beat COVID-19 and return to a new normal soon.
“Until then, we’re here,” Collins said. “We’re gonna carry on and keep handing out food.”