The Thanksgiving Day baskets for needy students have become a tradition at Maria College. Just some of the people that made that happen this year include (from l. to r.): Thomas Potenciano, nursing student; Clarissa Hartzog, assistant director of Opportunity Programs; Jason Coley, director of Support Services and Planning; and Sandra Grady, executive assistant to the Office of the President. (Emily Benson photos)
The Thanksgiving Day baskets for needy students have become a tradition at Maria College. Just some of the people that made that happen this year include (from l. to r.): Thomas Potenciano, nursing student; Clarissa Hartzog, assistant director of Opportunity Programs; Jason Coley, director of Support Services and Planning; and Sandra Grady, executive assistant to the Office of the President. (Emily Benson photos)
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Everyone’s Thanksgiving is looking a little different this year. Whether it’s a smaller family gathering or a virtual dinner, Maria College in Albany wanted to ensure every student had a holiday meal to enjoy.  

 

On Friday, Nov. 20, faculty and student volunteers from the college’s food pantry - the Maria Market - assembled Thanksgiving baskets filled with delicious goodies for needy students to take home for the holiday. 

 

“It’s a fun thing to do every year,” said Sandra Grady, Executive Assistant to the Office of the President.

 

The Maria Market provides emergency food to students who are in need or facing food insecurity and the pantry is funded by the Sisters of Mercy Northeast Community. This is the fifth year the school has offered Thanksgiving baskets for students. Each bag was packed with the Thanksgiving essentials: Cranberry sauce, green beans, corn, bread, butter, brownie mix, stuffing, gravy and a turkey. Students who requested a basket either picked up their food or asked that their basket be delivered directly to their house. Since COVID-19, the college has adopted contactless pickup for students and food delivery options where volunteers drop off food orders at student’s homes. 

 

“It’s a service that sets our campus apart from others,” said Andrew Ledoux, associate vice president for Student Affairs and Associate Dean of Students, who oversees the college’s food pantry. 

 

Since COVID-19 the Maria Market has seen an uptick in requests, said Ledoux, but entry to the pantry has been closed to ensure the safety of the pantry’s volunteers and users. The school, however, continues to help any students struggling to make ends meet get the food or house essentials they need. 

 

A Maria College student (whose name is withheld for privacy) turned to the food pantry after the microburst storm that blew through the Capital District in October knocked out power to her house. For the student - a wife and mother of two boys who’s working full-time - it wasn’t going to be easy to replace the perished food, so she emailed Ledoux about having some food dropped off while her power was down. 

 

“They gave me everything I had on my list and they gave me extra. I had Q-tips and shampoo and soap, additional things they put in there,” she said. “It was very emotional because I didn't expect the school to do that. In my whole life I’ve never had a school do that for its students, and I’m sure I'm not the only one.”

 

Last year, Maria College’s food pantry had over 200 visits from students. The pantry offers both food and personal hygiene items for students to bring home for themselves or for anyone in their family.

 

Another Maria College student spoke to The Evangelist about how the Maria Market helped him during a financially difficult period. “One of my professors saw my grades started slipping … and he was the one who suggested I talk to Drew (Ledoux) to get some assistance,” he said. 

 

Having the pantry eliminated the worry of food insecurity for the student. “It’s actually helped in a lot of situations. My paycheck at one point was short, and after I paid the bills and everything I only had enough money to get a carton of milk and that was it,” he said.

 

A number of the Maria Market’s donations come from local organizations such as the New York State Industries for the Disabled (NYSID). In September, NYSID workers held a food drive for students at Maria College.

 

“We’re proud of our colleagues who have contributed … and pleased to support Maria College in its efforts to support students in need,” said NYSID President and CEO Maureen O’Brien at the time. 

 

Ledoux said seeing NYSID’s donation and their efforts to help Maria College students “was such an inspiring moment.”

 

“It’s not just students using it but their families are benefiting from their items,” Ledoux said. Some students have expressed relief to Ledoux about having the food pantry to turn to for their family meals, and without worrying about where to get food from “they can focus on their academic progression.”

 

Victoria Battell, senior vice president and chief mission officer at Maria, noted that a majority of Maria’s students are working adults who have to balance feeding their families and making time for school. 

 

According to a press release by the college, 56 percent of students who completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) form in 2018-19 reported household incomes of under $39,999, which is just above 200 percent of the federal poverty level for families of two, and under that level for families of three, placing them in roughly the bottom third of household income for New York State. 

 

“It’s very difficult to concentrate on challenging coursework when you’re worried about where the next meal will come from,” Battell said. “These food items will go to help our most vulnerable students, and I know from speaking with those who use the food pantry that they are profoundly grateful for this support.”