Food pantries and donations feed hungry college students
Speaker 1: (00:00)
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 KPBS education reporter mg Perez shares, startling statistics, and some stories of students hungry for hope.
Speaker 2: (00:27)
Sounds of a food drive in action. Hunger is on the move among California's community college students. The state confirms half of them, 50% don't have the money or resources to buy enough food.
Speaker 3: (00:40)
I have some more massive potatoes up
Speaker 2: (00:41)
Here. 18 year old, CJ is a freshmen at San Diego Mesa college. He moved here 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 basis parking garages. This is the third annual pack. The pantry food drive a community collaboration between the college, the San Diego food bank and California coast credit union established by teachers in 1929 to improve education, never expecting in 2021, students would be going hungry. Christine Lee speaks for Cal coasts.
Speaker 4: (01:23)
That's a problem because what happens is these students have the potential of, you know, dropping a class missing class, or even not achieving their academics to the potential that they normally might.
Speaker 2: (01:34)
CJ is grateful to be able to fill up his car with so many cans and boxes.
Speaker 3: (01:39)
It tells me because then I don't have to go grocery shopping and I can also afford rent. This is like, it's a lot of food and it's like, it helped me in the long run salary I'm able to, to eat
Speaker 2: (01:53)
Mesa college also hosted an early Thanksgiving dinner for students who could use an extra meal. Hunger insecurity is happening on four year university campuses to the university of California reports. 44% of its students often go hungry. And 14% of them don't have stable housing. That percentage is even higher for community college students. And you live in an apartment student housing,
Speaker 5: (02:19)
Currently homeless, and you are
Speaker 2: (02:23)
Alex Montez represents one of those statistics and he is determined to turn it into his success story. He's an immigrant from Columbia trying to find housing through the San Diego LGBT community center. At the moment he uses Mesa colleges, basic needs resource center called the stand where there is donated clothing and food.
Speaker 5: (02:43)
It helps me a lot because my budget is really, really limited. So I'm constantly hungry.
Speaker 2: (02:49)
Johanna Oliman is the stand coordinator who also comforts students when they need it. Most,
Speaker 6: (02:54)
They don't have anybody who cares, anybody who will help them. And so listening to those stories can get emotionally overwhelming, but we do everything we can. And most of them leave feeling at least that the college loves them.
Speaker 7: (03:06)
So on this side, we have all your canned food goods
Speaker 2: (03:09)
At Cal state San Marcos, they packed a new pantry. The ribbon was just cut on the school student Cougar pantry, which is now 1200 square feet filled with food, both non-perishable and frozen. There are diapers and hygiene products for struggling 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. Alondra Gutierrez is the pantry coord.
Speaker 7: (03:37)
Yeah. Having access to a meal or, you know, ingredients that can put together a meal that way you're not stressing over having to worry about what to eat well on top of that, having to worry about different stressors that come from being a student.
Speaker 2: (03:48)
Yeah. That's food for thought. As back at Mesa college, Alex Montez begins in education for his future career,
Speaker 5: (03:55)
Probably develop or help develop some of the new generation of bionic arms and lambs. That's probably what I want to achieve.
Speaker 2: (04:04)
Feed students while nourishing their dream.
Speaker 1: (04:10)
Joining me is KPBS education reporter mg Perez mg. Welcome. Hello. Now this story of course takes place during the holidays when food distribution services are at their peak, but do these college pantries operate year round.
Speaker 2: (04:25)
They do operate year round, but as is the case in the rest of the world, we all seem to think about donating, uh, at the holidays. And that is why this story came to our attention and we are happy to promote it.
Speaker 1: (04:38)
So what kinds of foods are available to students at the pantries?
Speaker 2: (04:42)
There's much more of a variety than there used to be. It used to just be canned goods and non-perishables, but thanks to donations, there is refrigeration at many of the pantries, including the two that we visited. So there is frozen food offered and that obviously increases the variety that is available for students
Speaker 1: (05:02)
Right now. I think many of us from previous generations can remember early days of struggling on ramen noodles and maybe beans and rice, but the need seems so much greater for students. Now, one of the reasons for that,
Speaker 2: (05:16)
It is absolutely the cost of living and where we live. We live in Southern California, San Diego, where the cost of living is so high and inflation is in the news every day. And think about what that might look like in today's terms for students who are just trying to survive. If they were making minimum wage, let's say $15 an hour. That's about $2,000. Maybe take home on a monthly basis. And guess what? Rent averages in San Diego about that amount? So survival is really a challenge for many of these students.
Speaker 1: (05:49)
It sounds like feeding San Diego and the San Diego food bank are taking the lead in providing pantries for students. Are they getting any government help?
Speaker 2: (05:58)
Actually, yes. The good news is the state of California has designated millions of dollars to fund pantries. Like the ones that we have talked about and the ones that exist at so many colleges, that funding is to pay for people, to run them and for resources. So it is truly a community effort, uh, that the government is involved in, especially here in California
Speaker 1: (06:23)
And are students eligible for the CalFresh food stamp program
Speaker 2: (06:27)
They are, but it's a fine line that you walk because some, in some cases, one student that I talked to, she just made enough to not get those benefits and it's not much, uh, so it really is a challenge. That's a great place to start for them because it's a couple of hundred dollars a month that they can use to purchase food.
Speaker 1: (06:48)
Now, one of the students we heard in your story was homeless. Is that also a big problem for community college students?
Speaker 2: (06:55)
You would be surprised at how many students are homeless and homeless can be couch surfing. Homeless can be, I'm staying with a relative for a few weeks, but then I've got to find someplace else to live. This story, particularly concerns, community college students, many of the four year universities have dorms, and that's not the case for community colleges. So those students are at a particular disadvantage in having to find not only food, but a roof to put over their head.
Speaker 1: (07:26)
Now for a lot of people, it's tough admitting you need help, that you can't afford basic necessities like food. Is there any effort made to overcome the stigma? Students might feel an accepting help from a food pantry?
Speaker 2: (07:39)
Absolutely. The ones that we visited the stand at Mesa college, uh, truly is set up like a department store. There is clothing, uh, and it's also like a grocery store where the food is located. So students have a chance to actually shop. It's not a matter of just being handed something, but having a choice in what you put into your body and you use as a resource
Speaker 1: (08:02)
For the students that are struggling, it must take an awful lot of determination to keep up with their studies and keep their dreams alive. W what did they tell you about that?
Speaker 2: (08:12)
Worrying as heart-wrenching as this story is, and it is to be interviewing a student who is homeless and still working so hard to get good grades in a degree. What I want you to know is that I saw a lot of hope and resilience. And as I've talked about, I'm a former teacher. And one thing that I, that I was committed to, to do above anything else was bring hope to my students. And I want people to know that there is hope and that these students are working through some very difficult challenges, and we wish them the best.
Speaker 1: (08:45)
Now, I have a feeling that some people listening will probably like to help, how can they get involved?
Speaker 2: (08:52)
The good news is that many colleges across the county are offering pantry services. So my suggestion would be to find a college near you, a college where you have students attending, or that you have an interest in and go to their website. Uh, at Mesa college, it's called the stand. And if you go to their website, there is a tab, uh, that will make it easy for you to donate and help. Uh, the same is true at city college and the other community colleges in the county.
Speaker 1: (09:20)
I've been speaking with KPBS education, reporter, mg, Perez, and mg. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (09:26)
Speaker 8: (09:28)
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”