Story and Photos by Lola Olvera
It’s a common joke that college students can’t say no to a free meal.
It’s true that with school and work, students tend to skip a meal or two. Sometimes, they are too tired to cook anything. But for a startling number of them, the reason is that they simply can’t afford food.
More than 41 percent of California State University students reported some form of food insecurity, with about 21 percent experiencing very low food security.
These statistics, based off a 2015 study conducted by Rashida Crutchfield and funded by Chancellor Timothy P. White, made headlines when they were revealed. Crutchfield, also an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Long Beach State, received a Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award for her investigation. The four-part study took into account student surveys and interviews with students and focus groups.
The 41.6 percent of CSU students experiencing either low or very low food security is even more concerning when you compare it to the 12.3 percent of individuals experiencing food insecurity nationwide. Women, DACA students and African-American and first generation college students all reported higher levels of food insecurity.
Not everyone, however, was shocked by the report’s findings.
Some CSU campuses have prioritized addressing student’s basic needs, and almost a dozen offer services to help students experiencing food insecurity. LBSU, for example, has the Student Emergency Intervention and Wellness Program, which helps provide food, counseling and temporary emergency housing and funds to students in severe financial distress.
According to ASI senior communications manager James Ahumada, the students involved in creating the Basic Needs Program a few years ago had been trying to address the issue of food insecurity as far back as 2014.
“This report [...] quantified what they already knew kind of existed on campus,” said Ahumada. “I don't think it was completely surprising to those folks because they had already been working to find those solutions, but it did give some evidence to the concerns that they had heard anecdotally throughout the campus.”
The Beach Pantry, a part of the Basic Needs Program, offers free food to students in need. The pantry went from being just a few shelves at the Soroptimist House to having its own room on the third floor of the University Student Union in August 2016. Here, students can pick up canned beans, soups, vegetables and fruits, as well as pasta, granola bars, crackers and — the college classic — ramen noodles. Right beside the pantry is the Swap Shop, where students can donate or pick up school supplies in a similar fashion.
Maritess Anne Inieto has been working as a student assistant for the pantry for six weeks and describes it as an eye-opening experience. Inieto says that her job is very rewarding, especially since providing services to students is one of her passions.
“Students always show a lot of gratitude toward the food pantry because it’s a resource for students who may not have the resources or the funds to buy food,” said Inieto. “Having [free food] available with the swipe of an ID card...they’re very grateful for it and I can see that expression in them.”
More than 2,300 visits were made to the pantry in its first semester. Last semester, the amount was more than triple that number.
“The demand is definitely high,” Ahumada said. “We continue to work to get donations and work with the community because it's really a community-supported pantry. I think there's a growing demand from folks who use the Beach Pantry.”
Food scarcity and diets low in nutrition can have a huge impact on students’ overall performance. According to the Rocky Mountain Collegian, poor nutrition can decrease energy and lead to unhealthy weight gain, since cash-strapped students often opt for cheap junk food instead of healthier alternatives. Eating poorly can also decrease a student’s ability to focus, fight sickness and stay energized.
According to the report, many food-insecure students also had lower GPAs and had experienced mental health issues such as high stress, anxiety and depression.
“We're trying to make sure that we have [...] a variety of types of foods for students to take use of,” Ahumada said. “We did, last year, purchase a more-or-less industrial refrigerator so that we can house more produce. So for students, there are also those healthy options available.”
Inieto agrees that students look for healthier options. She says that her partnership with Grow Beach is great because “we can store it all [in the fridge] and students are able to use that as a resource and get their healthier options. This week we had apples and pears; we’ve also had squash, kale and string beans.”
Although they are always trying to improve the pantry, she says that students have always been grateful for the resources it provides.
“Even if we only have, like, Cup of Noodles, students will be, like, ‘Well, Cup of Noodles is better than nothing,’” said Inieto.
How You Can Help
Download Beach Bites
Did your club meeting or event order too many pizzas? Instead of tossing the extra, share it! Beach Bites is an official LBSU app that allows you to send other students an alert when there is free food available for them. You can share the location, type of food and how long it will be available.
Donate to the Beach Pantry
You can donate items to seven different donation centers on campus. Bring items such as non-perishable food, canned meals, canned fruits and vegetables, toiletries and school supplies. The locations can be found on the ASI website, asicsulb.org.
How You Can Get Help
Visit the Beach Pantry
Located in USU-302, the Beach Pantry stocks non-perishable food items for students in need. You can visit the pantry up to three times a week as long as you take no more than five items each visit. Remember to bring your student ID!
Produce on the Plaza
Stop by the University Art Museum Plaza the first Monday of every month for the Farm to Student: Produce on the Plaza event. Pick up free fresh produce from your local Long Beach farmers markets.
CalFresh Outreach Program
Low-income individuals can get help purchasing food by applying for CalFresh benefits, which can be used at grocery stores and farmers markets.