Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

How Fullerton College’s Food Bank is helping to fight food insecurity among students


By Laura Hernandez

Mia Gage, who is in her first year at Fullerton College, struggles to get enough to eat. “Sometimes I just have to like —I don’t know— try to find a snack to bring to school. It costs too much here, the food,” Gage says. “So I go to the food bank. It was two weeks ago, the last time I went there. Food just costs too much in general.”

The reason why college students struggle to meet even the most basic necessities, such as food security, is mainly financial. According to a survey of 900 Fullerton College students, conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University, about 50% of students have experienced food insecurity within the past month. 

Fullerton College has taken steps to address this by expanding access to the campus food bank, which has been open since 2012. Previously, the Chris Lamm & Toni Dubois-Walker Memorial Food Bank was only open on Wednesdays, but now they are open every Tuesday and Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The additional hours are intended to serve students who are on campus different days of the week. 

Despite changes like these, food insecurity among the general student population continues to be more common than people may realize.

Inside Fullerton conducted a poll of 35 randomly selected Fullerton College students, which found that 10 out of the 35 participants struggled or currently struggle with some form of food insecurity. Of those 10, eight say they have either visited Fullerton College’s campus food bank or other outside food banks or pantries.

“It makes me really happy to see students use the food bank and get the things that they need,” says Jose Verdin, a Fullerton College student and volunteer at the campus food bank. He says he also makes use of the food bank from time to time. “I’ve never had that when I was younger, having these kinds of resources.”

The numbers at Fullerton College mirror a national trend. A 2019 study by the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition found that the percentage of people facing food insecurity, particularly college students, has greatly increased in comparison to the previous three years.

About 32.9% to 50.9% of college students in the U.S experience food insecurity in comparison to the previous 2016 U.S estimates, that revealed 12.3% of Americans have struggled with food insecurity. Students in general seem to be one of the groups most susceptible to food insecurity as opposed to the average adult.

Endlessly worrying about their next meal can affect a student’s ability to thrive in their academic career as well as cause a great deal of emotional, physical, and mental stress.

Being food insecure can have many negative impacts on a person, such as lower academic performance from decreased ability to focus, very low energy levels, and the deterioration of mental health and physical health from lack of nutrition.

Most students who experience food insecurities are in fact classified as low-income, although it also depends on the person and their circumstances. Some students may come from economically stable families, but for whatever reason they themselves may not be a reflection of their parent’s or family’s financial status. 

This was the case for fourth year Fullerton College student Manal Bentchich. “I would say I’ve had to deal with food insecurity pretty recently, because of change in income again. Right now I just have to buy food that is less expensive and things that can last a longer period of time,” says Bentchich. She is only one among many that wouldn’t normally be classified as exactly ‘low-income,’ but still struggle on occasion to eat three square meals every day.

It doesn’t help that California has an increasingly high living cost. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, California has the second highest cost of housing in the country. The average minimum wage worker would have to work 116 hours a week to afford a 2 bedroom rental home. That’s nearly three times more than a full-time 40-hour work week. 

“I did struggle before, when I lived by myself about four months ago,” says Valenie Coda, a first-year student at Fullerton College. “When you’re a college student you get into hard situations and stuff. I kind of kept a budget, I tried to keep a tight hold of my wallet and not spend so much. I was very frugal.”

Many students—particularly at community colleges—attend school while juggling a part-time or full-time job. They burn the candle at both ends not just to feed themselves, but to help their families. “My parents work a lot of hours, but sometimes that isn’t enough,” says first-year Fullerton College student Ruby Sterdia. “We see if we have enough money to contribute. So, if I have some money and my other sisters have money, we put it all together and then we go and buy our food.” 

About 32.9% to 50.9% of college students in the U.S experience food insecurity Photo credit: Jon Budzar

Sterdia and her family have had to use outside food pantries to help make ends meet, and Sterdia relies on Fullerton College’s food bank. On her most recent visit to the campus food bank, she picked up fresh vegetables, fruit, and dried and canned goods. She goes about every two weeks.

The campus food bank acknowledges that while low-income students probably visit most oftwn, they would never turn away any students. They offer all students food and any other services they have. The only requirement is being enrolled in 3 units at Fullerton College, which usually translates to one class.

“Food-wise we do have a very wide range. We do have very fresh produce,” Verdin explains. “It does depend on what shipment we get but it’s a wider range, like what you would normally see at a grocery store.” Verdin says the food bank often offers students everything from dairy products, canned goods, fruits, feminine products, hygiene products, to dried goods and other staples. 

In the last week of September, the campus food bank had received about three large shipments of food. They included fresh produce such as potatoes, lemons, tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, grapes, apples, and more. They also offered milk, ready-made pastries and sandwiches, cheese, pasta, canned vegetables, bread, cereals, peanut butter, crackers or cookies. 

The North Orange County Community College District launched a new partnership with Pathways of Hope on July 1, 2019, to better serve food and housing insecure students, funded by the State Hunger-Free Campus initiative. Verdin explains how Pathways of Hope has been instrumental in supplying the campus food bank with much larger shipments of food. Before the expansion of the food bank, when they had to rely more heavily on donations, they were forced to ration what they could give out to students. 

Beyond campus, there are many food pantries and nonprofit organizations in Fullerton that give assistance to those who need it. Caring Hands ministry, a nonprofit that was started in 2002 by the First Lutheran Church, provides dried or canned goods, produce, and other food and non food products available for everyone who visits their food pantry. This includes low-income families, college students, and many other individuals. Anyone interested can visit the church for a free meal Tuesdays at 6 p.m. or Sundays at 12 p.m. Groceries are distributed on Wednesdays at 9 a.m., including free coffee and pastries.

“We know there are a percentage of college students who are struggling with food insecurity, and we are exploring ways we might be able to serve them better,” says church administrator Deenna Eley. In the meantime, she strongly encourages students to come in. “We have food for you, you are welcome! We long to serve the students who are working to make it,” she says.

Verdin emphasizes that students shouldn’t be hesitant in asking for the help that will allow them to thrive. “We offer students food that need it, that want to come and get food,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what financial status you are. We want to provide this food to anyone that needs it and if you come in we will give it to you.”