They’re taking advantage of a food pantry for starving students who somehow have enough money to buy beer, drugs and junk food.
“I lost 25 pounds,” said the UC Irvine sophomore. “It was one of my biggest worries, that I wouldn’t have enough to eat.”
The tall, thin 18-year-old was among hundreds of students who lined up this past week to take a peek at UCI’s newly expanded food pantry, intended to help students like him.
Across Southern California and the nation, colleges and universities no longer view the concept of the starving student as an inevitable joke, but a serious issue. To address what’s become known as “food insecurity,” campuses are opening up free pantries.
Some are as small as closets. In fact, UCLA’s pantry is called the Food Closet.
Fullerton College may have been the first in Orange County to open a food pantry. The Chris Lamm & Toni DuBois Walker Memorial Food Bank is supported by donations and run by volunteer staff and students.
Cal State San Bernardino on Thursday dedicated their renamed Obershaw DEN pantry, which was remodeled and has added refrigeration for perishables.
A day earlier, the UCI campus celebrated the opening of a remodeled pantry touted as the biggest in the UC system. At more than 1,800 square feet, it features not only free food and toiletries but sitting areas, a “kitchenette” with small appliances and a space for weekly food demonstrations and nutrition talks.
There are more than 540 campus food pantries across the U.S. registered with the College and University Food Bank Alliance, which is tracking the trend.
All UC campuses – and all but one of the California state universities – now have food pantries, as do many community colleges.
Even some pricey private colleges, including Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Chapman University in Orange, say they have students who simply can’t afford to cover the cost of tuition, books, labs, transportation and food.
“Some LMU students were surprised to see that kind of need at LMU,” said Lorena Chavez, the university’s assistant director for community engagement. Then, they began inquiring about it for research papers and to offer donations.
“For me, it was that ‘aha’ moment,” Chavez said. Need isn’t restricted to any one campus, she said, “especially when it comes to food insecurity.”
For some students who visit local campus pantries, the free food is more than a supplement. It’s a necessity.
Studies indicate a significant percentage of college students are experiencing various levels of food insecurity, ranging from going hungry to poor diets:
A 2016 UC survey of nearly 9,000 students found that 42 percent experienced food insecurity; 23 percent had diets of reduced quality, variety or desirability; and 19 percent weren’t getting enough food because they couldn’t afford it.
A 2017 Community College report found that about 12.2 percent of students experienced food insecurity.
A 2016 Cal State University system study reporting preliminary data based on Cal State Long Beach respondents suggested 24 percent of students were experiencing food insecurity. A second phase of the survey of all the system’s 23 campuses is expected to be released next year.
“The narrative of the starving student is part of the problem,” said Rashida Crutchfield, a Cal State Long Beach assistant professor and lead investigator on the CSU report.
“A lot of people believe that struggle and eating a cup of noodles is just part of the college experience,” she said.
For many of the students, it’s not easy navigating the new terrain of college life. Some don’t want to burden their parents by asking for more financial help. Others know their parents, perhaps struggling themselves, can’t give more.
Today’s students don’t all fit the stereotype of an 18-year-old, single person. Many are returning to school as older students, some with families to support.