Food Pantry helps Gavilan students succeedby Jan Janes on Jun 8, 2016
Tuition, gas, rent or food?
All too often, these are choices students make every day. Money runs out before food is purchased, food runs out before the next paycheck. To address that problem, the Gavilan College Food Pantry opened to students, with a soft launch May 3 and a grand opening with free pizza on May 17.
The Food Pantry will be open over the summer:
June 6th-June 9th: 9:30am-12:30pm
June 13-August 26th: Monday-Thursday, 10am-4pm
Kathleen Moberg, vice president of student services, noted that faculty and staff often advocated for student food assistance. "When I came to Gavilan," she said," I envisioned bringing something similar to the Sparkpoint model at the College of San Mateo District," a one stop financial education and financial coaching service center.
In the 2013-2014 academic year Gavilan conducted a student survey about household food availability.
"We found 33% indicated they experienced food insecurity on an ongoing basis," said Susan Sweeney, director of the CalWORKs program on campus. Researching area resources, she discovered Second Harvest Food Bank (SHFB) already provided food to other colleges.
"Through SHFB, and in partnership with St. Joseph's locally," said Moberg, "we were able to bring the pantry to Gavilan."
"We have created a small but mighty food pantry distribution center at the college"
Tometrius Paxton, partnership manager with SHFB, retrofitted a small room at the rear of the library building to maximize the storage space. Stacks of non-perishable goods sit on wireframe shelves lining the room. Students can select from concentrated fruit juice, canned fruit and vegetables, soups, pasta, dried beans, crackers, peanut butter, breakfast cereal, nuts and apples.
Paxton coordinated with college staff, specified and purchased the equipment, then arranged for weekly restocking by St. Joseph's Family Center. He has set up pantries in other locations and is in the planning stages to build one at San Jose State University. Gavilan's facilities team installed the equipment. The food pantry at Gavilan College is a new program using USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding in collaboration with CalFresh, SHFB and St. Joseph's Family Center in Gilroy.
"This is a pilot to see if the need is really there," said Moberg. "The long range plan would be to find space, add refrigerators and freezers to add perishable food to the current offerings."
CalWORKs students staff the pantry
Anika Mathewson and Laura Hanamoto, both Gavilan students, rotate schedules to staff the pantry.
To qualify, students verbally confirm their household size and income, signing in with their student ID numbers. "One person, the wife of a vet, cried when she learned she could access a food bank and self-verify her income," said Mathewson.
The onsite staff are trained to help students look up resources, locate other food sources and learn about campus services, including employment training programs, funding for books and transportation.
"This program recognizes the stigma people sometimes feel about food stamps and food banks, the conflict of needing to eat, needing to feed your family," said Mathewson.
The "typical" student profile has changed
No longer aged 18-22 with family support, the demographic of many college students today differs from previous generations. Coupled with the economic downturn beginning in 2008, new pressures are shaping an increasingly diverse student body.
Today's students tend to be older, many support families and work full time in one or more jobs. More students are first generation from immigrant families, are from lower income groups and qualify for financial aid. They pay higher college costs and have a higher cost of living at the same time wages have stagnated or decreased. They attend community colleges. And many are food insecure, or one paycheck away from being food insecure.
Gavilan student George Kyriakopoulos, a biology major, learned about the pantry at the Tutoring Center. "I've been hungry in class before, no food at home, with money really tight."
Food insecurity, a growing national problem
The problem stretches across all states, all types of colleges and universities.
According to the College and University Food Bank Alliance the number of college food banks grew from one in 1993 to four in 2008, then mushroomed to 184 in 2015. In California last fiscal year, more than 35% of all children below the age of 18 were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Entering college, that benefit disappears.
Funding food assistance is not a service community colleges traditionally provide using existing budgets. But because SHFB is a nonprofit funded through community and corporate donations, there is no cost to the college to supply food to Gavilan students.
Look for the bright yellow signs
As more students learn about the program and stop by to pick up a bag of food, the pantry serves as an information system. Many students do not know what kind of help is available, where to get help or how to start. Pantry staff can coach them about on-campus programs and share literature from local social service agencies and community groups.
To help launch the program, "We received $500 funding through Associated Students of Gavilan College for marketing," said Sweeney, "which is how we got the banner and sandwich boards."From the program's soft launch to the grand opening, two weeks of sign-in logs reflect a steady, growing number of students picking up food from the pantry every day.
For more information, contact Gavilan College CalWORKs program at (408) 848-4798.
This online study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture measures the six indicators of food insecurity.