UC Campuses Rise to the Challenge of Addressing Student Hunger

When it comes to addressing student needs, it’s not surprising to find that students themselves are often the first to recognize the demand and the first to take action. Such was the case in 2009, when UCLA freshman Rachel Sumekh knew something had to be done to address the hunger faced by low-income students and the local homeless community, especially when there was enough food to go around.

Members of UCLA’s Swipe Out Hunger chapter (credit: http://volunteer.ucla.edu)

That fall, she rallied a few of her friends together to use their extra meal points to buy food for those in need. Under the name Swipe Out Hunger, the group eventually partnered with UCLA’s Dining Services to expand their group’s reach. The first year they handed out 300 meals. In 2016, Swipe Out Hunger handed out its 1,346,267th meal.

Since then, Swipe Out Hunger has gained considerable recognition as a pioneer in college food charity. Named a “Champion of Change” by The White House, Swipe Out Hunger has spread to 30 chapters across the United States, including all nine University of California campuses.

Spurred by such student action, UC President Janet Napolitano launched the UC Global Food Initiative in 2014. Among many goals, one of the missions of the Initiative was to tackle student food insecurity, which is defined as experiencing reduced food intake due to limited resources. Since the introduction of the Initiative, Napolitano has allocated over $3.3 million to UC schools to help fight student hunger and aid efforts such as Swipe Out Hunger.

The support from the UC Global Food Initiative also made organizations like the UC Berkeley Food Pantry possible where students struggling to buy meals can pick up produce, meat, and non-perishables for free. Focusing on student health and accessibility, the Food Pantry provides healthy options and maintains an active online presence to keep students updated on their stock and hours. The Food Pantry is also supported by UC Berkeley’s own Swipe Out Hunger chapter that collected $51,000 during the 2016-2017 school year. Today, the day-to-day operations of the Food Pantry is primarily student-led with the support of equally passionate campus staff members who have helped grow the Food Pantry to its current level of success. Data collected by the Food Pantry recorded over 2,000 total visits in September with an average of $21 worth of food given out per visit.

UC Berkeley Food Pantry (credit: UC Berkeley Food Pantry Facebook)

Other UC schools have made similar progress. All of them now have operating food pantries and UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley are now working towards increasing student registration for CalFresh, California’s nutrition assistance program. Many California State University campuses have also begun to follow in suit.

As student food insecurity continues to garner attention, students and campus administration have risen to the occasion. While the work is not done, the progress made so far has increased the availability of affordable, accessible food resources so that learning- not worrying about the next nutritious meal- is the number one priority for students.

 

 

 

Sabrina Munatones

Sabrina Munatones is a fourth year Society and Environment Major and Japanese Minor. Her interests lie in food systems, sustainable living, and her dog.

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