Stocking Up to Support Students Facing Hunger Success Stories

February 19, 2018
Image of students on campus

Imperial Valley College operates its emergency pantry in a converted mailroom and partners with a local food bank in distributing not only meals, but also fresh produce from the fields of local farmers to students who would otherwise go hungry. The San Diego City College Emergency Food Pantry provides pre-packaged items suitable for an on-campus meal to approximately 300 students each week. And the Hawk Spot Food Pantry at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento works with the Elk Grove Food Bank to offer nourishment and basic necessities to any student uncertain of where their next meal may come from.

At community colleges across the country, there is a rapidly growing awareness about the challenges students are facing in meeting their basic needs. And California community colleges are on the front lines, opening food pantries, guiding and supporting students into the CalFresh program, and working with food banks and other nonprofits to help prevent students from going hungry.

The need is profound. According to a fall 2017 report titled Food, Housing, and Basic Needs Resource Survey, 57 percent of California community college administrators, faculty and staff reported direct contact with students experiencing insecurity with basic needs, multiple times each week or even every day. It is glaring statistics like these that have inspired the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to distribute $2.5 million to more than 60 campuses to host a food pantry or regular food distribution program.

Indeed, food pantries are part of a fast-growing movement to address hunger on college campuses. More than half, according to Food, Housing, and Basic Needs Resource Survey, operate in partnership with, or funding from, community-based food banks. Others, such as the two new pantries in the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, operate with the help of the nonprofit college foundation, student government, the local food bank, and donations.

“These food pantries are critically needed at our colleges,” said Chancellor Cindy Miles of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca district. “We assist students in other ways, through scholarships and emergency grants for unexpected expenses, but until now, we haven’t had the resources to help with basic sustenance. Students who are hungry can’t focus on their studies.”

Decorum is critical, according to the recent survey, and many respondents described innovative outreach techniques. One survey respondent noted that their pantry “is very sensitive to the students’ needs and the stigma that accompanied using the pantry. We provide an environment that provides students with integrity and dignity. Students come into the pantry, they check in, get a basket and go into our storage to pick up their items… It’s like going shopping.”