“Community college students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and many are struggling to get by,” said MiraCosta College President/Superintendent Sunny Cooke, who serves as president of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association (SDICCCA). “Our colleges have made it a priority to do what they can to make an impact on reducing hunger not only on our campuses, but also in our communities.”
Efforts in San Diego County include new food pantries at Southwestern College and San Diego Mesa College.
The need is profound. A recent study at Southwestern College found that 80 percent of students have experienced food insecurity, and many say they’ve opted to skip meals altogether to help make ends meet.
National surveys also show that large numbers of college students are skipping meals and going hungry because they cannot afford to feed themselves. A recent report from the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness, for example, found nearly half of more than 3,700 respondents in 12 states reported instances of food insecurity within the previous 30 days. And a 2015 survey by the University of Michigan of more than 4,000 students at 10 community colleges found that nearly 1 in 4 students had gone hungry due to lack of money.
At the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, the Associated Student Government at Cuyamaca College is hosting a Fall Food Drive to help stock up its food pantry benefitting hungry students. The Grossmont College Child Development Center is accepting donations for its food pantry for children’s families. In addition, Grossmont College is working with the nonprofit Basket Brigade of San Diego to assemble and deliver Thanksgiving food baskets to needy families.
MiraCosta College recently wrapped up its “Scare Away Hunger” campaign aimed at replenishing the food pantry’s supplies for the upcoming holiday season as well as spreading awareness of the food pantry program. In 2005, MiraCosta College was inspired to establish the pantry after a student saw another student digging through a trash can looking for food. A year later, the Service Learning Department Food Pantry opened and fed 25 students its first semester. “We don’t turn anyone away,” said Bea Palmer, coordinator of the Service Learning and Volunteer Center.
Palomar College recently completed a Stock the Bank project that yielded more than 1,300 items such as canned goods, cereal and pasta from students, faculty and staff. Students in need are afforded up to three dozen items, plus an individual package of personal care items. Students may come to the food bank once a month and many students participate on a monthly basis. Non-students have also been assisted with individual food items. During the holidays, the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) offers students gift cards to complement food bank supplies. And the Palomar College Early Childhood Education Lab School brings donations of nonperishable items to the food bank every year for distribution to the larger community.
The San Diego Community College District has embarked on a number of initiatives to combat hunger. At San Diego City College, the food pantry provides emergency lunch items to needy students. Small Business Entrepreneurship Program interns staff the pantry and distribute food to approximately 200 to 250 students per week. At Miramar College, Miramar React operates the college’s emergency food pantry, among other efforts benefitting those in need. San Diego Mesa College has launched The Stand, a food pantry and professional clothing closet. Also, Mesa College’s Associated Student Government will provide Thanksgiving dinner for students without holiday plans.
Southwestern College, which recently opened a new food pantry called the Jag Kitchen, launched a Fall Food Drive in October that will help feed students during the holidays. A separate food drive is being held by the three construction firms working on various campus modernization projects.
“I remember what it was like to go to school hungry,” said Southwestern College’s Child Development Center Director Patricia Bartow, who helped launch the Jag Kitchen. “Seeing my students go hungry the past few years made me realize the problem hasn’t gone away. Today I am honored to open these doors so we can work together to help students who are in need.”
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