By Della Elliott
Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges have long been filling the minds of students with knowledge. Now they are looking to help fill their stomachs as well, and are seeking the public’s help.
Studies, including a survey of the two colleges, have shown that food insecurity among college students is a significant problem, so the campuses are both setting up food pantries to help needy students. Cuyamaca College’s Harvest Pantry started Aug. 21, the first day of the fall semester. Grossmont College’s Gizmo Kitchen kicked off Aug. 25, with a noon-2 p.m. grand opening in Griffin Gate in the student center.
Both pantries are located in health services offices in each college’s student center. (Bldg. 60-130 at Grossmont College; I-134 at Cuyamaca College.)
“These food pantries are critically needed at our colleges,” said Chancellor Cindy Miles. “We assist students in other ways through scholarships and emergency grants for unexpected expenses, but until now, we haven’t had the resources to help with basic sustenance. Students who are hungry can’t focus on their studies.”
The two East County colleges are stocking their pantries with the help of the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges, the philanthropic arm of the college district, student government and the San Diego Food Bank, but are also seeking donations of non-perishable food and drinks, including snacks, bottled water and fruit juices.
“We have had students referred to us by teachers and other departments in the past, but we had minimal resources — granola bars/water — available here at Health Services,” said Cuyamaca College Health Services supervisor Lori Senini.
Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges were among 70 community colleges from 24 states that took part in a large-scale survey conducted in 2016 by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Association of Community College Trustees. That survey found that of the 700 students at the East County colleges who responded, more than 60 percent reported a low or very low level of food security in the past 30 days. The colleges’ numbers exceeded the regional and national figures of 58 percent and 56 percent, respectively.
Another recent study by San Diego State University found that half of the local community college students who were surveyed faced some level of food insecurity over the past 30 days.
Such reports have brought food insecurity to the attention of educational leaders and community colleges across the country are taking steps to address the food crisis. Last fall, Cuyamaca College started a pantry by the EOPS/CARE offices that was maintained through donations from college staff. EOPS and CARE are both state-funded student assistance programs located at all 114 California community colleges.
The college also decided to take a collaborative approach to address food insecurities among students and established the campus-wide food pantry. The collaboration between the various student services departments — financial aid, EOPS/CARE, Student Affairs, the Health and Wellness Center, CalWorks, Veterans Services and others — has also improved student access to information and services related to food and housing challenges.
Senini said the collaboration will continue with the campus-wide Harvest Pantry keeping shelves stocked for EOPS/CARE students. Currently, the pantry is stocked to handle 50-100 students per week, an amount she said should be sustainable with regular visits to the San Diego Food Bank, donations and the startup of First Friday events to encourage faculty and staff to contribute to the food pantry, as well as to the college’s supply of free toiletries and clothing for students in need.
The Harvest Pantry will be available to any students on a once-weekly basis who are enrolled at Cuyamaca College. The college welcomes donations of non-perishable canned foods and snacks; breakfast cereals and oatmeal; rice, pasta, potatoes and lentils; and fruit juices, bottled waters and packets of hot chocolate.
Grossmont College is offering a “grab and go” student food pantry providing prepackaged items suitable for an on-campus lunch or meal. Free food and toiletries will be available to any currently enrolled students on a once-weekly basis.
Student Engagement Coordinator Susan Berry said the Office of Student Affairs is working with faculty to get classrooms involved in food drives. Berry said outside vendors are also contributing, including Woodstock Pizza with coupons for free pizzas and a share of its sales at athletic events.
“We have a variety of plans in place to ensure the sustainability of the food pantry,” Berry said. “Eventually we will also be doing monthly fresh foods and a community breakfast free of charge to help our students in need.”
The community is invited to drop off donations and write notes of encouragement to place inside the food bags going to the students.
The college also welcomes grocery store gift cards or monetary donations to the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges for the Grossmont Food Pantry. Donations of food on Gizmo’s Kitchen’s approved shopping list may be dropped off at the Associated Students of Grossmont College office (Bldg. 60-116) during business hours.
Due to space limitations, donations are requested of only items on the shopping list. They include non-perishable items such as packets or pop-top cans of tuna and chicken, microwavable soup with easy-open tops, beef/turkey/pork jerky; individual cups or snack-sized trail mix; apple sauce, dried fruits and fruit cups; microwavable packets or cups of rice, pasta, ravioli, and macaroni and cheese; snack sizes of chips, cookies, granola bars and microwave popcorn.
Cases of bottled water, hot chocolate and tea packets, instant coffee and drink enhancer packets such as Gatorade and Crystal Lite will also be accepted.
Toiletries, plastic silverware and other items on the shopping list are also welcome. Contact Student Engagement Coordinator Susan Berry for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District serves about 30,000 students each semester, about 20,000 at Grossmont College and almost 10,000 at Cuyamaca College. For more information about the colleges, go to gcccd.edu.
—Della Elliott is marketing and communications director for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.