Contributions are up this year at the SUNY New Paltz Food Pantry, and much of that success is due to the efforts of new Volunteer Coordinator Mandy Maldonado, who has been working with the volunteer staff there to intensify outreach efforts, increase donations and raise awareness that this resource is available to all members of the campus community.
Maldonado ’16 (Latin American & Caribbean Studies / Spanish) ’18g (Humanistic-Multicultural Education), from Washingtonville, N.Y., came to New Paltz in 2011. She first learned of the Food Pantry from Student Christian Center Pastor Diana Smith, who co-directs the Food Pantry and helps student volunteers coordinate trips to regional soup kitchens and shelters.
When Maldonado returned to campus to pursue a graduate degree, she and Smith discussed ways of expanding the Pantry’s impact.
“We started brainstorming how we could do better outreach,” Maldonado said. “I knew of some organizations I could talk to about getting involved, and while I didn’t have much experience doing social media, I had some ideas for things I could try there as well.”
Their goal was to expand the Food Pantry on both the supply and the demand sides – not only raising more contributions, but also increasing the number of students, faculty, staff and community members who understand that the Pantry is there for them, too.
Maldonado says that work starts with creating a discrete and welcoming environment when people visit.
“I see many faces that come to the Pantry, and I don’t ask them for their life story – I just do what I can to make sure they feel comfortable,” she said. “We invite anyone who’s in need to come in, and it’s rewarding to see people come in for the first time. We want them to know they can depend on the Food Pantry to be there when they need it, and also to know that what happens here, stays here.”
She also drew on new and existing contacts across campus, establishing partnerships with Campus Auxiliary Services, the Educational Opportunity Program, the Office of Veteran & Military Services, the campus Farmers Market and the Office of Student Activities & Union Services.
Maldonado is also reaping personal and professional benefits from her hard work at the Food Pantry, a welcome supplement to her coursework as she advances toward a career in education.
“When I first came here I was very quiet, I didn’t want to put myself out there – I think I had a little fear of the unknown,” she said. “I guess I started to grow from there, to where I was able to come to the Pantry and be more proactive in helping students get what they need. I fell in love with it, and I haven’t left.”
The campus Food Pantry, located in SUB 322, is open on Wednesdays from 1 – 4 p.m., Thursdays from 4 – 8 p.m., and Fridays from 2 – 5 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome for both donations and pick-ups.