For three days before Thanksgiving, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life distributed boxes of food for students in need at the Interfaith Chapel.
For the past year Religious and Spiritual Life has been taking donations for the Leo Food Pantry program – put in place to help address the food insecurity experienced by an alarming number of college students across the state.
“As an educational institution, the most important thing is students are successful as students,” said University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner. “If someone is not eating, they cannot focus. When your basic needs are not met, it is difficult to have your full attention on being a student. We want to make sure our students have enough to eat.”
The first Leo Food Pantry event held in December 2016 led to the formation of the University of La Verne Food Coalition, a committee of staff, faculty and students dedicated to addressing the issues of food deficiency and planning the food pantry program.
“Food insecurity has been a growing issue among college students nationally, and this includes the University of La Verne,” associate dean of student affairs Juan Regalado said. “I’m hopeful the Food Pantry will alleviate some of the needs and concerns that some of our students may have.”
According to a 2016 study by the University of California Global Food Initiative, about 42 percent of UC student respondents experienced food insecurity.
Food insecurity as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is, “experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources.”
For the past one and a half months, the Coalition has been taking in food and monetary donations to prepare boxes for students.
Request forms were available to students on the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life website, where they could sign up until Nov. 15 to receive a box customized with their food preferences.
Students then picked up their boxes at the Interfaith Chapel from Nov. 20-22.
Sophomore anthropology major K’lema Burleson is the student lead for the Pantry.
“My first semester of freshman year, I struggled as a commuter,” Burleson said. “Since I didn’t have access to a meal plan, my main struggle was food. I really thought about the kids who are going through what I went through, and I wanted to give (the Food Pantry) my all because it would have been awesome if I had the food pantry back then.”
She was in charge of packing these boxes and coordinating the open house event that took place Nov. 15.
Around 70 students signed up to receive boxes and 13 signed up to volunteer for the distribution at the open house held in Stu-Han residence hall.
Senior English major Vanessa Marquez signed up for the Food Pantry when she received an email about it.
She knew that Davenport Dining Hall was going to be closed during Thanksgiving break and signed up for the Pantry because she could not keep spending money on eating out.
“It feels really good that the La Verne community is taking care of you,” Marquez said. “I feel like (the Food Pantry is) going to help out a lot of students in need.”
The Food Pantry will distribute food once a month to help students bridge the gap in food service, Wagoner said.
Because the program is still in development, there are many goals that the Food Coalition committee has set to improve their service to students.
As of now, the Pantry is located in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, so one of the main goals is to identify a permanent location for the Pantry to be available year-round.
There’s also the matter of donations. The Coalition is working on partnering with agencies like the Los Angeles Food Bank to obtain food supplies consistently and affordably, Regalado said.
They also want to encourage students, faculty and staff to continue supporting the program during food donation drives and volunteering.
“We have been fortunate to have faculty, student and staff make donations towards this project and we are extremely thankful to those that have made donations,” Regalado said.
There will be another Food Pantry distribution next month, and students are welcome to sign up at sites.laverne.edu/chaplain/student-food-pantry/student-food-bank.
Mulan Novilla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.