Diversity initiative tackles student hunger

Photo from USC Dornsife website
Helping hand · Natalie Reyes, a senior majoring in sociology and law, history, and culture helps lead the Virtual Food Pantry.

Though most USC students take full advantage of meal plans and on-campus dining options, some face a daily struggle to put food on the table. In an effort to combat food insecurity at USC, the Dornsife College Office of Diversity and Strategic Initiatives partnered with Campus Activities to support these students through the Virtual Food Pantry.

Food insecurity can occur for a variety of reasons, but the high cost of living in Los Angeles can make it particularly difficult for low-income USC students. The Pantry provides $25 Ralph’s gift cards for students to use at their own discretion, offers services to help students with budgeting tools and connects them with financial aid representatives.

Mary Ho, the assistant vice dean of Diversity and Strategic Initiatives, said the team behind the Virtual Food Pantry collects data on students to understand how food insecurity negatively affects them.

“We have seen the impact,” Ho said. “The students who have come to me have expressed gratitude. So we better understand that this does impact them negatively when they don’t have food.”

The Food Pantry initiative began with a donation from Leo and Dorothy Braudy, who worked with Dornsife Diversity Director George Sanchez to help underprivileged students.

Kelly Sanchez, a senior majoring in NGOs and social change, helps to run the pantry. She said that the pantry “makes USC more of a home,” providing a sense of security that some students might not be experiencing in their own homes.

“It’s hard enough being a college student in the first place —managing finances, managing life and also trying to decide who you are trying to be,” Sanchez said. “For someone that really just has a blank slate, food insecurity is a very common problem.”

Savannah Robinson, who serves as the social media coordinator for the project, added that food insecurity is “more widespread than we think.”

“One of my close friends is someone who is extremely money conscious. She was so excited when she heard about this food pantry,” Robinson said.

Natalie Reyes, a senior majoring in sociology and law, history and culture, personally dealt with food insecurity during her sophomore year of college. Now in a different financial position and as one of the leading members of this initiative, she is able to use her own experience to help in the effort.

“I knew all of my friends were struggling, and it was just something we knew that was going on but we didn’t know there was someone we could talk to for help,” Reyes said.