Faculty and Staff

Pace's Secret Bodega

Johnni Medina
April 5, 2022
two smiling volunteers sort through pantry goods at a food bank

“I always said jokingly as a kid, I wanted to run a bodega.”

Denise Santiago, PhD, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, has been with Pace for more than two decades. Over the years, she couldn’t help but notice some of her students were hungry, often worrying about their meal plans and sharing where free food could be found. “It wasn’t out of greed,” she explains. “It was out of hunger and necessity. I read up on the literature knowing this is not just an issue specific to Pace, but nationwide.”

She’s right. Food insecurity is a pervasive problem, but it’s especially prevalent on college campuses. According to a 2019 survey (PDF), 39 percent of college students had experienced food insecurity in the 30 days prior to the survey. A 2020 survey found that 52 percent of students had visited a food bank, while 30 percent frequently relied on the services of a food pantry.

Santiago knew that her students were hungry, sometimes relying on a single meal a day, or prioritizing MetroCards and textbooks rather than groceries. Santiago was determined to help—and she set her eyes on creating a campus food pantry.

“Provisions is my bodega.”

In 2015, she conducted a survey to gauge how many students were likely food insecure, using the federal poverty level as an indicator. The number? Close to 1,500 students were living below the poverty line. The data, though, could not tell her how many were living at or slightly above that line—and those students were likely prioritizing tuition and housing costs over food. It was evident that the need was significant.

It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight, but in 2019 the Provisions food pantry opened. The generous donation of a faculty donor secured the food pantry as an institution on Pace’s NYC Campus, and it was renamed Provisions, a Bhandari Jain Family Food Pantry, named after the faculty member and in honor of the Jain religion, which holds the motto Parasparopagraho jīvānām, or soul renders service to another.

Provisions now serves approximately 250 guests, some of whom belong to the Pace Active Retirement Community (PARC). A recent student initiative, Fare Trade, helped Provisions partner with Invisible Hands, a delivery service that can now deliver Provisions food boxes to members of PARC. Four student volunteers dedicate about fourteen hours a month to provide twice-monthly food distribution. Whereas many food pantries offer a few days’ worth of meals, Provisions offers up to two weeks of food (depending on household size).

Santiago is still at the center of Provisions, a Bhandari Jain Family Food Pantry. Knowing that her students can find support when they need it is both a point of pride, and of humility. “It brings a lot of joy. And then people send us these wonderful emails, really thanking us. We don’t do it for the thanks, but it just humbles you.” She now finds her childhood dream of a bodega has been realized, proudly saying, “Provisions is my bodega.”

For more information about Provisions, a Bhandari Jain Family Food Pantry, visit their webpage. To get involved in fundraising efforts, join Provisions for an exciting Chopped competition event.

Need food resources in Westchester or Haub Law? We’ve got our community covered. Check out the Mobile Food Pantry in Pleasantville and Haub Law’s recently launched pantry.

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