Correction: This story originally indicated that only Anabel’s had a non-profit model dedicated to food security. In fact, GreenStar does have a non-profit arm dedicated to that idea.

ITHACA, N.Y. — Matthew Stefanko and Emma Johnston were sophomores at Cornell when they first learned that a substantial swath of Cornellians are food-insecure—meaning financial difficulties cause them to regularly skip meals.

At one of the world’s most affluent and elite institutions of higher education, disadvantaged students were going hungry and receiving little assistance from their university’s administration.

When Stefanko and Johnston began to brainstorm solutions to this phenomenon, they knew they were wading into uncertain territory. There was no data about food insecurity among Cornell students, and research turned up few workable precedents for addressing the issue in university settings.

A handful of discarded ideas and more than a year later, Cornell’s administration approved of Stefanko and Johnston’s first-of-its-kind initiative: the creation of Anabel’s Grocery, a nonprofit, student-run store that offers low-cost groceries to students and subsidies to those who qualify.

Though there are other student-run stores at universities such as Georgetown, Anabel’s will be the first to strategically address food insecurity. Its team of about thirty students aims to tackle this issue on three fronts: access, affordability, and use.

Access

The store will be located in Anabel Taylor Hall, a gothic-style interfaith center in the heart of Cornell’s campus, and extensive renovations to its space are well underway. Anabel’s directors hope that rather than skipping meals or buying calorie-dense snacks at convenience stores, hungry students will visit their convenient site near the Cornell Law School to purchase nutritious, affordable eats ranging from fresh fruit to peanut butter.

Anabel’s will be “an environment that is free of stigmas” that will draw student customers from both food-secure and food-insecure backgrounds, according to marketing director Nicholas Karavolias.

Anabel’s initially intended to open last spring, which would have made it the first establishment in the close vicinity of Cornell’s residential communities to offer a wide array of fresh foods. However, it looks like GreenStar Cooperative Market’s Collegetown location, which has been in the works for six years and opens on Aug. 17, will take that distinction.

Anabel’s Grocery co-director Elizabeth Gorman describes the forthcoming opening of GreenStar in the Collegetown area as “complementary, not competitive,” noting that both Anabel’s and GreenStar will expand students’ access to nutritious food.

According to GreenStar marketing Manager Joe Romano, GreenStar has a non-profit arm dedicated entirely to Food Justice in the community.

Romano said that GreenStar has offered its FLOWER program, a 15% discount on our already low prices for all low income shoppers, for many years. Students who receive Pell grants and/or government assistance of any kind will be able to take advantage of that program.

Anabel Taylor Hall (photo by Alexander Molina).

Affordability

Anabel’s will be open to all Cornell students, and students’ grocery costs will be subsidized by 10% if they qualify as food-insecure, an assessment that will be based on a free USDA Food Insecurity survey.

The subsidies will be financed by the Students Helping Students fund (SHS), a program that typically provides monetary grants to Cornell students facing personal emergencies. SHS currently receives interest payouts from Cornell’s $6 billion endowment.

Though it’s unclear how many students will qualify for the subsidy, the ultimate figure could range in the thousands. Cornell’s 2015 PULSE survey on campus climate found that over a fifth of its undergraduate students “skipped meals or [did not have] enough to eat because of financial constraints” during the academic year.

Use

Since Cornell’s late president Elizabeth Garrett gave the grocery store her stamp of approval last November, the students behind the project have distributed meal-kits, screened documentaries, hosted cooking demonstrations, circulated affordable recipes at Cornell’s farmers’ market and on social media, and even given out free food.

Their mission—to spark lively discourse about food access in anticipation of the store’s opening next spring—has had considerable success. “Anabel’s” has become a household name on Cornell’s campus, and its Facebook page has amassed over 1,000 likes.

Though the store will focus on providing low-cost groceries to students when it opens next spring, Anabel’s Programming—a distinct, registered student organization—will continue to offer cooking classes and other events that promote healthy eating.

This outreach “promotes a sense of inclusivity for low socioeconomic students at Cornell” and educate students of all backgrounds, according to Karavolias.

Anabel’s Grocery entrance. (Photo by Alexander Molina)
Anabel’s Grocery entrance. (Photo by Alexander Molina)

How Will Anabel’s Change Cornell?

Anabel’s aims not just to alleviate food insecurity among disadvantaged student on Cornell’s campus, but to make nutritious and affordable food more accessible to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. If all goes as planned, it will become a staple in the routine of cash-pressed students seeking nutritious eats.

Anabel’s also seeks to change a campus culture that leaves critical issues relating to socioeconomic status unaddressed and steeped in taboos. Its directors hope that alongside other initiatives, the grocery store will make Cornell a more equitable university that lives up to its “any person, any study” motto.

Inside Anabel’s (photo by Alexander Molina)
Inside Anabel’s (photo by Alexander Molina)