Antonio DeBerry Jr., 21, has big dreams. He’d like to play college football, get a scholarship, become a professional in sports management. But the road isn’t easy. An Erie, Penn., native attending Nassau Community College, he’s far from home, he’s working a lot, he’s got complications. And he’s hungry.
DeBerry, like many of NCC’s 23,000 students, is food insecure. He doesn’t always know where his next meal is coming from or whether there will be any meal at all. But now he and other NCC students, faculty and staff have a bit more support, thanks to The NEST, a new food pantry opened by faculty volunteers at the college this fall semester right on campus.
“I don’t come from money,” says DeBerry. “I do know how to make things stretch. But to be honest, sometimes I didn’t know when I would eat. I was surviving on water. I don’t want to call my mom exactly, but I had to find a way to eat.”
DeBerry’s instructor, professor Sharon Masrour in the Reading and Basic Education Department happened to be one of the founders of The NEST.
“She and I have a good relationship,” DeBerry says. “She realized I was hungry and she gave me resources and other options and she told me about the food bank and I went in and they’ve been helping me ever since. It’s a blessing.”
Two years in the making, The NEST was dreamed up by Masrour and joined by individuals like Mary Cay Ardise, coordinator of the Basic Education Department at the college. “There was a need apparent on campus and she gathered a few like-minded people,” said Ardise on a recent visit to The NEST. They assembled an executive board comprised of faculty and administration but is a separate entity from the college. The board did a survey about a year ago that confirmed the need and researched local pantries as well as other college-run food banks to build a structure. A grant from the Nassau Community College Foundation greased the proverbial wheels and the nonprofit took shape.
Today, The NEST, in room 118 of South Hall, is serving around about 26 families (the guests, as they are called, fill out forms for inventory purposes, but their confidentiality is protected) who come during open hours and are able to choose what they need based on a suggested quantity list. There is baby food (on one recent visit a young mom and giggling toddler in stroller were picking up supplies), canned vegetables, peanut butter and jelly, mac & cheese boxes, canned soup, the fixings for a pasta meal, quinoa and more nonperishables on shelves lining the small converted office space. Paper goods are stacked in a corner and on a central table fresh vegetables from the NCC organic garden await. A new fridge allows The NEST to offer yogurt, milk and other perishables.
The Nassau community has embraced the food pantry enthusiastically, with academic departments keeping collection boxes in their offices. Island Harvest and LI Cares also donate and several events on campus have helped the cause. “We intend to grow and provide more services,” says Ardise. “At this point we are just getting our feet wet and growing as the space allows.”
For Antonio DeBerry, The NEST is already a success. “It was terrible not knowing when I’d eat, not being able to focus because my stomach was growling,” he says. “It’s terrifying not knowing when you’ll eat. It hurts. It’s scary. Now I feel like I’ll be able to pass.”
The NEST is open to the NCC community Tuesdays 5-7 p.m.; Wednesdays 9.30 a.m. – 12.30 p.m.; Thursdays 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. It is at South Hall, Room 118. If you’d like to help, visit The Nest website or call 516.572.5384.
(Full disclosure: Natalia de Cuba Romero, in addition to being a frequent Edible contributor, is a full-time lecturer at Nassau Community College.)