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Feeding a need

Cal State Long Beach is set to expand its current food pantry to address students’ food insecurity needs in the fall 2016 semester.

The current food pantry, comprising three shelves of canned goods, is located in the Soroptomist House and is operated by CSULB’s Interfaith project, which opened the pantry in 2011. Associated Students, Inc. will handle pantry operations to make the service more centralized and accessible to students dealing with food insecurity issues, according to ASI Vice President Miriam Hernandez.

The expanded food pantry will begin by offering nonperishable items such as canned soup, pasta, chips and cookies. Future goals include further pantry expansion to house refrigerated items, such as fruits, vegetables and meats, as well as to address students with specific dietary needs such as halal, kosher and gluten-free options.

According to Hernandez, the food pantry will be open to all CSULB students but will be targeted to students with food insecurity needs. The California State University system utilizes the definition of food insecurity provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

The USDA rates food security on four levels: high food security, marginal food security, low food security and very low food security. Quality and variety of food decreases as a family becomes more insecure, and food intake is decreased altogether due to lack of resources at the very low level.

Approximately 21 percent of students across California State University campuses were estimated to be food insecure in the 2014-2015 school year, according to a report from a February 2015 study of homeless and food insecure CSU students by Rashida Crutchfield, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at CSULB.

Student self-reported estimates of food insecurity served to be higher, at 24 percent, according to a survey of CSULB students that received 1,039 responses. National estimates of students who experience food insecurity are unknown. A lack of identification method to address homeless and food insecure students proved to be the second-highest concern in implementing such programs on campus, according to the study, with 71 percent of administration reporting such a barrier.

“Obviously we don’t want to out someone for their economic status; we want to honor that [concern],” she said. “This pantry will be open to over 37,000 students here on campus.”

Hernandez also touted the Soroptomist House’s centralized location on campus to make the food pantry accessible for students, but said the process will be as confidential as possible as food insecurity is often a discrete issue.

While any student will be able to enter the pantry area and walk out with the food they need, ID verification will be put in place to prevent non-students from accessing resources, Hernandez said.

She related the story of CSU Fullerton’s food pantry, which proved so popular that officials had to install ID checks in response to exceeded demand for food from non-student community members.

Other programs set to open in fall 2016 to address food insecurity at CSULB include the installation of a CalFresh counselor on campus to assist students with the application process for state food benefits and the expansion of the University Student Union’s Corner Market into a produce station offering fresh fruits and vegetables and accepting EBT.

Additionally, ASI will introduce a smartphone app currently known as “Beach Bites” that will notify students when completed on-campus events have extra food available.

The new pantry is the brainchild of Hernandez and incoming Vice President Logan Vournas.  Hernandez and Vournas said they have experienced food insecurity themselves and described how a lack of food is an issue that goes unmentioned in the community.

“It’s a huge problem that we don’t ever talk about a lot, it’s an invisible issue; it’s something that [if people are] insecure about they’re not going to come forward,” Vournas said. “As someone who knows how such a big problem it is but we never really talk about it I thought it should be brought to the forefront.”

Hernandez added how food insecure students face a constant struggle about which resources to donate their time and money toward.

“We do need affordable food [and] education; we are at a point where our food is so expensive on campus,” she said. “[It’s] a constant battle of whether it’s balancing your education or your health; our university should be able to provide food to students who do not have enough means.”

Hernandez estimated the specific number of food insecure students to be even higher than the CSU’s estimates due to the large number of low-income students the university serves. 80 percent of CSULB’s 37,430 students are low-income, according to her. A low-income student is defined as someone who makes $17,820 a year for a single-person family unit, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education.

Additionally, Vournas also highlighted how food insecurity affects a large population of the LGBT community, as 40 percent of homeless individuals identify as LGBT according to a study by University of California Los Angeles’ Williams Institute.

CSULB is not the only CSU campus to address such issues. According to the CSU report, 11 campuses currently have programs to help food insecure students, including food banks, vouchers and other materials.

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