The Student Union Assembly (SUA) food pantry helped feed more than 1,200 students last month, going through 25-30 packages of food per night including sushi, burritos, salads, fruit cups and sandwiches. Despite the pantry’s recent success in supporting 450 more students compared to fall quarter, in 2019 the pantry will need to relocate or risk closing.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” said SUA vice president of student life Tamra Owens regarding the future location of the pantry. “This is going to play a pretty critical role when it comes to SUA elections this upcoming spring quarter because whoever is replacing me, they’re going to need to have a plan.”
Owens initiated the pantry in spring 2017 as a response to student food insecurity. Now, almost a year later, the pantry continues to provide students with an option to receive fresh groceries and pre-packaged food for free. But the pantry is only scheduled to remain in the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) building until 2019, with no official plans for its relocation at this point, Owens said.
The SUA food pantry is one of three food pantries on campus, but for most students it is more accessible than others. The Family Student Housing (FSH) pop-up food pantry only operates every first and third Wednesday of the month from 4-6 p.m. at the FSH Community Room and the Slug Support/Dean of Students pantry is only open 13 hours per week. The SUA pantry is open nearly 40 hours per week.
Produce pop-ups around campus, which sell fruit and vegetables at affordable prices, and CalFresh are other options for students experiencing food insecurity.
The SUA food pantry operates on an annual budget of $21,000, or $7,000 per quarter, which comes out of the student-financed SUA fund, though that funding is temporary. Between $2,400-$2,800 is used for staffing expenses each quarter, with $4,200-$4,600 left to purchase food and equipment, Owens said.
Owens hired Frida Salgado, second-year and former shift lead, as the pantry manager this quarter alongside 12 shift leads, up from 11 shift leads and no pantry manager in the fall. Shift leads are responsible for directing volunteers, answering students’ and volunteers’ questions and opening and closing the pantry. Volunteer involvement is up from 150 last quarter to 250 student volunteers this quarter because of increased advertisement efforts through the pantry Facebook page and workshops explaining what the pantry does, Salgado said.
The pantry has seen an increase in food sources and student use this quarter in addition to increased volunteer involvement.
“We sometimes get Owl’s Nest leftover food and Perk, and that’s been a really big hit — students really like that,” Salgado said. “And that has grown a lot over this quarter because we’ve been working with the sustainability office.”
The SUA pantry has been working in tandem with the Office of Sustainability to take advantage of unsold food at the Perk Coffee Bars since Nov. 3, 2017. During fall quarter, Perk donated 669 packages of food to the pantry.
This quarter, the donation program expanded to include packaged food from the Owl’s Nest Cafe as well. Food is recovered from one or both of these locations five nights a week. The pantry receives about 140-150 packages of food per week. Since the donation program’s inception, the pantry received 1,273 packages of food, said sustainability programs manager Kristen Lee.
“I feel like [this quarter] people actually know when we open and when we close and [know] our hours better, so they know that Mondays are our delivery days, so they get there right at 1 p.m. and there’s really long lines for that,” Salgado said.
Increased use of the SUA pantry and heightened awareness of food insecurity on campus prompted a reaction by dining services and Cowell College staff, who proposed transforming the Cowell Coffee Shop into a Basic Needs Cafe.
Carolyn Golz, Cowell College administrative officer, emailed a survey to Cowell and Stevenson College students on March 1 to gauge whether students want the Basic Needs Cafe to replace the Cowell Coffee Shop. The project would be funded by the UC Office of the President (UCOP) and the California state legislature as part of a greater effort to address food insecurity on California college campuses, according to an email sent by Golz.
If successful, the proposal will provide students with free coffee, tea, food tastings and CalFresh workshops beginning fall quarter 2018. The upstairs kitchen would become an occasional cooking workshop area and food pantry with fresh vegetables and fruit grown on campus, groceries and ready-made meals open to all students.
“The Basic Needs Cafe will supplement the SUA pantry and will provide a longer-term solution if the SUA pantry were to close for some reason in the future,” Golz said in an email to Cowell and Stevenson students.
The SUA food pantry occupies part of the OPERS building as part of a temporary agreement. Once the contract expires at the end of December 2018, the pantry will need to find a new location or risk closing down.