Closing the Hunger Gap with the Help of Colgate Students

The Hamilton Food Cupboard is a non-profit organization that has been serving the Hamilton community since 1988. The public outreach program described its mission: “[We] advocate for the hungry, and actively provide for the nutritional needs of low income individuals and families located in the Hamilton and Madison school districts.”

After operating out of a small location on Mill Street, the Cupboard has recently moved to a larger facility on Airport Road. This change has allowed them to expand their outreach immensely. In addition to providing food and other household items, the Hamilton Food Cupboard helps their clients access information regarding social agencies relevant to their individual needs.

Many individuals in the Hamilton community and Madison county at large struggle with food insecurity, relying on the Hamilton Food Cupboard for support. According to the New York State Action Association, Madison County has an 11.9% county poverty rate, and COVID-19 has greatly impacted employment rates and senior citizens’ access to food.

Suzanne Collins, the director of the Hamilton Food Cupboard, has been involved with the organization since 2010 after serving on the board of directors for many years. Over the course of Collins’s tenure, much progress has been made including a summer lunch program, food delivery services and the establishment of pantries in surrounding towns to allow for easier access to food sources. Collins is devoted to the work that the Hamilton Food Cupboard does, often working over hours.

“I’m civic-minded, so being on different boards is important and I think it’s your obligation to your community and your neighbors,” Collins said. “When you meet the people that come here, they are so genuine.”

The people that Collins has met over the years fuel her passion for this work.

“If they’re having a bad day, they’re going to tell you they’re having a bad day. It’s not like I have to tiptoe around anybody like friends or family. What you see is what you get, and they’re a wonderful population. They work so hard. Just being able to get services if they need it is a lot of work — to get food stamps, to provide for their families and to get heating assistance.”

The Hamilton Food Cupboard has many regular volunteers, but also relies on the help of Colgate students to function. Gwyneth Farr, a sophomore, is one such volunteer. The time she has spent at the Cupboard has helped define her Colgate experience thus far.

“Seeing all of the types of items that are provided at the Hamilton Food Cupboard allowed me to reflect on how many products I consider necessities and take for granted. Many of these items are integral to living a comfortable and healthy lifestyle, so it made me better appreciate the need to continue supporting those who struggle to afford daily products as well as address systemic issues that contribute to their economic position,” Farr said. “College life is often so independent, and it helped me refocus on the value of supporting others.”

Priya Martin, a sophomore from Buffalo, N.Y. concentrating in philosophy and psychology, recalled one moment at the Hamilton Food Cupboard that left an impression on her.

“While I was volunteering, someone came in requesting foods that could be made into complete meals with only a microwave, because he did not have a functional stove or oven. This put into perspective how truly fortunate I am, and how grateful I should feel to not have to worry about food insecurity.”

Not only does the Hamilton Food Cupboard do amazing work for individuals struggling with food insecurity in Madison County, it also bridges the gap between Colgate students and the Hamilton community. Collins raved about Colgate student and administration involvement in the Cupboard.

“One day, before students went on break, a boy called me and asked me if there was anything we needed, so I gave him a list of stuff. Then he came by with a truckload of stuff and I didn’t even know he was coming.”

Finding ways to increase student involvement is essential in strengthening the relationship between Colgate students and the surrounding communities.

According to Gabby Urbano, a first-year undecided concentrator from Connecticut, there is more work to be done.

“I think Colgate students do engage with the Hamilton community but could do more,” Urbano said. “Working at the Hamilton food cupboard has made me more aware of the privilege I and many other Colgate students have. I think it’s important that we give back to a community that helps us so much.”

Josie Ward, a sophomore neuroscience and global public and environmental health concentrator from Hingham, Mass. agrees.

“I think it’s very easy for Colgate students to reach out and lend a helping hand to the surrounding community, and also just as easy to stay in the Colgate bubble up the hill on campus. Many students may not realize that there are a significant amount of individuals experiencing food insecurity in town, but even donating a few hours of my time helped humble me, and fostered a sense of personal generosity,” Ward said.

In the coming years, the Hamilton Food Cupboard has a goal of expanding its services to the elderly community by increasing at-home delivery services. The Hamilton Food Cupboard, with the help of dedicated Colgate volunteers, is doing impactful, meaningful work.