Feeding Empty Bellies
Day in and day out, a group of Sarah Lawrence students makes the rounds, picking up leftovers from Bronxville establishments. But the food doesn’t end up at campus parties or as fuel for wee-hours conference paper sessions.
Instead, students use their private cars each evening to bring the food to Part of the Solution (POTS), a soup kitchen in the mid-Bronx that feeds 350 needy people a day. The student group, known alternately as Empty Bellies or Feeding Bellies—more on this below—is the brainchild of Dana Frasz ’06, a Maine native who transferred in 2003 from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she brought cafeteria food to homeless people living in Rochester’s abandoned subway tunnels, documenting her work with a photo essay.
Some 20 SLC students have joined her effort. Their nightly delivery of everything from salads and sandwiches to fruit and desserts typically claims every available inch of the vehicle transporting it. “I’ve had friends offer to go with me,” says Frasz, “and I’ve had to say, ‘Honestly, you wouldn’t fit.’”
It was a simple project to set up, she relates: It took a letter of introduction from the group, tax forms for businesses that wanted them and, maybe most importantly, the assurances of the 1996 Good Samaritan Food Act, which largely releases food donors from liability associated with their contributions.
Only the group’s original name, Empty Bellies, has provoked anything like second-guessing. “Some people call us Feeding Bellies and some say Empty Bellies,” says Frasz. “There was a misunderstanding last year, and some people thought we were a group of anorexic girls encouraging people to have empty bellies. That made us question the name. Our intention is to feed empty bellies.”
After gathering food during the day and storing it in a Titsworth campus refrigerator, student volunteers fan out into Bronxville in the early evening, stopping by restaurants, such as Scarborough Fair, as well as Starbucks and the Food Emporium grocery store.
“Sometimes I’ll roll out of there with two shopping carts full of food,” Frasz says. “The food is amazing: You look at an apple and say, ‘Why are they throwing this away?’ There might be a little brown spot on it.”
The group brings “extras” to POTS, says its executive director, Sister Mary Alice Hannan, including gourmet items such as fruit parfaits that POTS could never purchase for itself. But the students deliver something more, too: confirmation that part of the outside world cares and wants to help.
“Our guests are poor, homeless and deprived, and they’re very well aware that a group of kids from a suburban college are going out of their way to put food on the table,” says Sister Mary Alice.
“Clearly there is enough food to feed our community,” says Jenise Morgan ’07, one of the student drivers. “Empty Bellies begs the question, why do people go hungry when the local deli throws away 20 sandwiches every night? We are proving to our peers and the SLC community at large that social injustice has a home just steps away from our picturesque campus.”
Frasz took a year off after high school and spent four months in Southeast Asia, working in schools and living with families. She says it was her first exposure to chronic, widespread poverty. “Restaurants don’t even think about throwing food away,” she adds.
Sarah Lawrence students’ commitment to Empty Bellies is crucial, she says. “Even if one person misses a day, if it happens on a regular basis, the businesses will say ‘We can’t do this. We’ve gotten all this stuff ready.’
“All the students have made a big commitment to make this work, to make it a priority, to make it legitimate.”
Their commitment—every single day, remember—has made Empty Bellies a popular and recognized group on campus. “When people see students walking up the hill with containers of food,” Frasz says, “they know it’s going to the hungry.”