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Students Take Action against Hunger

Like most of their fellow students, junior Hillary Frame and sophomore Jennifer Barone spent early December preparing for final exams.

But Frame, Barone, and other members of the Vassar chapter of the Hunger Action Network of New York State were also busy grocery shopping and cooking. On December 13, they prepared and served their annual holiday dinner for more than 200 men, women, and children at the Lunch Box, a soup kitchen in downtown Poughkeepsie.

Serving the dinner is just one of the group’s community activities. The students help other volunteers serve a daytime meal at the Lunch Box every Friday, serve a meal once a month at another soup kitchen at a Poughkeepsie church, and run food and clothing drives for local homeless shelters.

“Vassar is such a beautiful place, and it’s easy to get in a comfort zone here,” Barone says. “It’s important to get off campus and give something back to this community, and that’s what Hunger Action does.”

The Hunger Action Network is a statewide not-for-profit organization that provides advocacy and support for low-income and homeless families. Vassar is the only college in the state affiliated directly with the organization, executive director Mark Dunlea says.

“The students do a lot of good work in Poughkeepsie, and some of them attend our lobbying events [with state legislators] in Albany every year,” Dunlea says.

Every fall, the students collect clothes for children and adults from Vassar students, faculty, and staff and deliver them to a shelter for homeless families run by a Poughkeepsie not-for-profit group, Hudson River Housing. Elizabeth Celaya ’02, spokesperson for the organization, says the Vassar students have also helped the community in other ways.

“When they brought the clothing to the shelter, they learned about the work we’re doing in neighborhoods [in downtown Poughkeepsie],” Celaya says. “They came to our holiday tree-lighting and distributed food and clothing to people in the neighborhood. They’re involved with us on a regular basis, and their support is uplifting.”

Frame, who plans to go to law school after she graduates from Vassar, says the work she has been doing with the group has helped crystallize her goals for the future.

“My experiences working with the homeless have reinforced my desire to become a lawyer and address these issues on a larger scale,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot.”

Brian Riddell, executive director of Dutchess Outreach, the organization that runs the Lunch Box, says Vassar students have been helping to feed the hungry in Poughkeepsie for a long time.

“They first came to me with the idea for the evening meal more than 10 years ago, and they’ve been sending volunteers to our midday meal for many years,” says Riddell, who serves on the state board of directors of Hunger Action Network.

He says the work of the Vassar chapter of the group has spurred others at the college to become involved in volunteer work in the community.

“The students [from Hunger Action Network] come back to campus and talk about what they’re doing, and that has helped us establish connections with the broader Vassar community,” Riddell says.

—Larry Hertz

Photos © Vassar College-Buck Lewis