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Food pantries and donations feed hungry college students

alex montes shopping.jpg
Nic McVicker
Alex Montes shops at The Stand basic needs resource center at Mesa College, San Diego, CA, November 18, 2021

The holidays are wrapped in a season of giving and donations. In the wake of the COVID catastrophe, basic food has become an even greater gift for those in need and right now community college students are among those who need it most. The State of California reports that 50% of those students don’t have the money or resources to buy enough food.

C.J. Pallach, 18, is a freshman at San Diego Mesa College. He moved to San Diego from San Jose with plans to keep playing soccer and begin his education toward a career in civil engineering.

Just before Thanksgiving, he joined hundreds of fellow students lined up in their cars in one of Mesa’s parking garages. They received boxes of food that included canned vegetables and other non-perishable items. “This helps me because then I don’t have to go grocery shopping and I can also afford rent with a little bit of help,” Pallach said. “This is a lot of food and it’s going to help me in the long run, so I’m able to eat.”

soccer player garage.jpg
Nic McVicker
C.J. Pallach, Mesa College student, gets help from the Pack The Pantry Food Drive, November 18, 2021

The drive-thru distribution is part of the third annual Pack the Pantry food drive. The drive continues until Sunday December 5th at the San Diego Community College campuses.

The food comes from a collaboration between the Colleges, the San Diego Food Bank, and California Coast Credit Union. Cal Coast was established by teachers in 1929 to improve education. Now there is a priority to support students who are going hungry.

Food pantries and donations feed hungry college students
Listen to this story by M.G. Perez.

“That’s a problem,” said Chistine Lee, spokeswoman for the credit union. "What happens is these students have the potential of dropping a class, missing a class, and even not achieving their academics to the potential that they normally might.”

Alex Montes is representative of the startling statistics. He is an immigrant from Colombia, a freshman at Mesa College, and he is homeless. At the moment, he’s trying to find housing through the San Diego LGBT Community Center. He uses another resource on campus called The Stand. It’s a place with donated clothing and food.

Montes said, “right after I wake up I try to find something to eat because I’m always hungry. I usually come here to find out what kind of snacks they have.”

Johanna Aleman is The Stand Coordinator, who also comforts students when they need it most. Several of her students are homeless and have troubled pasts. “They don’t have anybody who cares, anybody who will help them and listening to those stories can be emotionally overwhelming,” she said, “but we do everything we can and most of them leave feeling at least that the college loves them.”

At Cal State San Marcos, there was a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school’s new expanded food donation space. The Cougar Pantry went from 200 sq feet to 1,200 sq feet filled with food both non-perishable and frozen foods. There are diapers and hygiene products for students who are also parents. All provided by Feeding San Diego, the San Diego Food Bank and local grocery stores as another solution to the problem.

canned goods garage.jpg
Nic McVicker
Canned goods and other non-perishable food distributed on the San Diego Mesa College campus, November 18, 2021

Alonda Gutierrez, the Cougar Pantry Coordinator, said, “having access to a meal or ingredients that can put together a meal that way you’re not stressing over what to eat while dealing with different stressors that come from being a student.”

Shoppers must be currently enrolled CSUSM students and can visit the space once a week. The pantry serves an average of 250-300 students per week. It’s run by a team of more than a dozen professional staff, students and interns.

Ultimately, the pantry and food drive efforts are designed to help students meet basic needs in their journey to graduation. Alex Montes said he will not let his circumstances keep him from his career goal to use technology to benefit medicine. He told KPBS News, “I will probably develop or help develop some of the new generation of bionic arms and limbs, that’s what I want to achieve.”

Food pantries and donations feed hungry college students