Pantry moves locations to increase student accessibility

The pantry is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Students with self-identified good emergencies will be allowed to visit the pantry one time each week. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

The University Emergency Food and Toiletry Pantry is set to open Monday in a new location, following increased demand for services from students facing food insecurity.

The Food Pantry has moved from the Student Union to Parkside Apartments 135, a space that Gabriel Valenzuela, director of Campus Activities, said he hopes will be more accessible to students.

“The Food Pantry needed a larger footprint to be able to provide perishable and non-perishable products,” Valenzuela said. “In addition, the increased size will allow for food donations to be accepted.”

The Food Pantry is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In the coming weeks, Undergraduate Student Government plans to extend the pantry’s hours to include all five days with longer hours of operation, according to USG President Debbie Lee.

Once the Food Pantry opens, students will be allowed one visit per week to get up to three bulk and snack items, one prepared meal and one hygiene item, Valenzuela said. Students will be prompted to take a survey so the administration can better understand which resources need to be added to the Food Pantry, according to Alec Vandenberg, director of External Affairs for USG.

Vandenberg said breaking down the stigma surrounding food insecurity — defined as an inability to reliably access affordable, nutritious food — is one of the most important steps toward helping students living within those circumstances. Often students have to deal with also being housing insecure and are forced to make a decision between going hungry and paying rent, Vandenberg said.

“At any level you’ll have people [saying that] this is a private university, there isn’t a need … and we know that’s not the case,” Vandenberg said.

According to the 2014 Hunger in America report conducted by Feeding America, about 30 percent of students said they were forced to choose between food and their education.

The Food Pantry provides a temporary solution for students with self-identified food emergencies, Valenzuela said. It also has additional services such as an on-site social worker that can help determine students’ eligibility for CalFresh benefits, a form of government food assistance.

Food-insecure students may also be eligible for Electronic Benefit Transfer, a prepaid card that students can use for food around Los Angeles as well as at the Wednesday farmer’s market on campus.

USG is also experimenting with Market Match, a food program that matches CalFresh benefits to farmers markets, to further drive down the prices of groceries for students, Vandenberg said.

Lee said USG has focused on expanding these programs for students after noticing a need for more resources on campus, particularly when the Food Pantry opened for the first time last spring.

“A lot of students have been utilizing this resource since its beginning,” Lee said. “I think that’s very telling of the kind of support that is needed, especially for students that often go unseen on our campus.”

Students who want to help minimize the prevalence of food insecurity can contribute to the Food Pantry by volunteering or donating goods, Valenzuela said.

Lee said the University’s main goal is to be able to support students without students needing to visit the Food Pantry.

“The Food Pantry is a transitional step into getting to that ideal state where all students are financially supported,” Lee said.