After the discovery of the COVID-19 virus in late 2019, its impact has expanded. Currently, it is a pandemic with over 400,000 affected worldwide and more to come. Many countries like China, Italy, and the United States have gone to the lengths of closing schools and businesses. Many people are quarantined inside and practicing social distancing. The world is no longer the same. People are asked to leave six feet of distance between them. They are buying out of panic, forcing stores to implement limitations on items like water and toilet paper. All students in NYC are out of school and a lot are out of jobs leading to home and food insecurity.
As a senior at Hunter College, this has to be the most chaotic experience I’ve ever had. As of March 19th, I started online classes and the lack of in-person learning has been quite an experience. Although I am privileged to have a laptop and a paid internship, I notice a lot of my classmates do not have those things. In this past week, I have heard my classmates and friends complain about being laid off, having to go back to an unsafe home, and not being able to afford anything. Colleges and public schools were a safe haven for most of us. A lot of us had a guaranteed place to eat, to socialize, and to study.
I am extremely thankful that my college campus remains open and allows students to still come in and use the resources. It has implemented a program where students can take laptops home and borrow them for the rest of the semester. Though this sounds great on paper, it doesn’t count the fact that some students do not have enough money to travel to and fro in order to take advantage of these opportunities. All the students who were doing work-study and depended on it for income have lost their jobs.
I miss receiving in-person tutoring from the undergraduate teaching assistants. Not only have they lost their jobs, but students who cannot concentrate online are suffering too. I will utilize Zoom and Blackboard Learning in order to continue my classes so I can graduate in May. However, I can admit that online classes create an entirely new distraction. I have experienced taking hybrid classes in the past, but going fully online will be challenging for many. I see posts about Hunter students unable to participate with the fullest potential due to drawbacks like using a shared computer, having to deal with the distraction of family members in the background, unstable WiFi, and a host of other issues. Furthermore, diverse food preferences are no longer available to a lot of students who are now facing food insecurity.
New York City and independent companies have been doing a lot to make sure students can adjust to this transition. Spectrum is offering up to two months of free Internet to people who cannot afford it. In addition, the Department of Education has mandated that public schools in every borough from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm give children free meals. These are helpful for many, however, I noticed they do not have those same programs for college students and older people. Pantries and food banks citywide are open, but according to a report by NY1, food pantries are closing. There is a lack of essential materials like masks and gloves due to people buying them out. Furthermore, companies have taken advantage of the illegal practice known as price gouging. Food banks are now understaffed and forced to compete with big companies like Whole Foods and Amazon for food deliveries. The staff for these public food sources is dwindling and they are forced to hire volunteers. Little money has been allocated to assist them in this sudden change. This will leave thousands of New Yorkers, especially those who are adults, homeless, and elderly, at risk for starvation.
The newly implemented NYC public school program, “Grab and Go,” provides options for the children of our city, but seems to have limited options. The children do not have access to any hot meals it seems based on the menu provided on the website. They provide cereal, milk, sandwiches, graham crackers, and salads, but I cannot help but see that those options seem to target a more ableist community. What about the children who are diabetic or are resistant to gluten? How can a food program at its best be not completely inclusive to some of the dietary restrictions people may have?
I respect the effort and I know they are trying their best with what they have, so I am calling on New York City and Albany to provide more funds, so NYC schools could help children all across the board. Moreover, they need to provide food banks with more money. It is unfair that in a crisis like this, NYC’s “bottom tier” citizens cannot access food simply because they cannot afford Amazon. It lacks equity and I know they have the funds to support their citizens. They may need to put other funds on the back burner, but the city needs the money now. This pandemic is not going to finish anytime soon, so it is best that our city provides us security.
Overall, there is a lot to be done and it will not happen overnight. I encourage my colleagues to start speaking to their house representatives about ways to help with food insecurity for young adults during this global public health pandemic. Panic is causing hospitals to fill up and grocery shelves to empty. I believe there needs to be some security — and the State must provide it. The COVID-19 virus may have the ability to kill, but it is a lack of resources that will mostly cause people to suffer.
Tanisha Williams is a senior at Hunter College, CUNY, and a member of Young Invincibles’ Young Advocates Program