A 2015 study conducted under the California State University’s Basic Needs Initiative found that 1 in 10 CSU students suffer from some form of food insecurity, a condition characterized by limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
Students may be particularly vulnerable to food insecurity at Cal State East Bay, where upwards of 80% are the first in their family to attend college. At Concord, most undergraduates and credential students earn their degrees while simultaneously working, raising children, and caring for spouses and parents. With such heavy demands, the ability to regularly place food on the table is easily compromised.
Helping Our Pioneers Excel (H.O.P.E.) is part of a University-wide initiative called East Bay Cares to respond to the needs identified in the Chancellor’s report, connecting students to food assistance, medical services, emotional counseling and emergency cash support.
Hope Food Pantries serve several purposes; providing food, toiletries, small household supplies, and nutritional information, as well as connecting students to campus medical care, counseling and a variety of emergency services. When possible, the pantries also help students apply for Cal-Fresh, a state-wide food aid program.
The pantries are stocked with donations by students, faculty, staff, and alumni and, in Concord, members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
Concord’s pantry opened in February 2017 and in its first year, served over 350 individuals from households ranging from 1 to 12 members. The service was an immediate hit with students. “I expected the usage would be very slow, but the first day we opened students were waiting to use it,” says Darice Ingram, the project coordinator for the Concord Pantry.
To enable the campus to offer fresh vegetables, eggs, and other perishables for the first time, the Community Health Fund(CHF) recently provided a grant that will enable Concord to purchase a commercial refrigerator for its pantry, (The CHF performs one of John Muir Health’s most important community benefit functions: it distributes grants and partners with community-based, nonprofit organizations to create sustainable health initiatives that expand and enhance health care services for those who need them most in central and east Contra Costa County.) This current grant also enhances community outreach while increasing the volume of food distributed. On a larger scale, the grant calls for future collaboration between the Concord Campus, Los Medanos College, and the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties to better understand the food needs of college students throughout East Contra Costa County and, hopefully, expand the number of food pantries available in the region.
Ultimately, says Ingram, the Concord pantry initiative is about student success. “If we are able to capture and even mitigate barriers to accessing food we can help students focus on their studies without worrying where when or how they will get their next meal.”
John Muir Health is a longtime supporter of the Concord Campus. Its support was instrumental in the development of the campus nursing program. Cal State East Bay looks forward to future partnerships for the betterment of the community.
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