How universities and colleges around the Monterey Bay are working to address the basic needs of students
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID ROYAL
When UC Santa Cruz food systems analyst Tim Galarneau found out that up to 6,000 students on campus were skipping meals because they couldn’t afford food, he set out to do something about it and his pioneering work is having a ripple effect throughout the Monterey Bay area and the nation.
Galarneau—himself a UCSC alum—was alerted to the problem by a study called “Got Food?” which surveyed University of California students on how often they skipped meals because they couldn’t afford the consistent purchase of food on a daily basis due to other costs of attending college. The average was 44% of students skipping meals systemwide, while on some campuses the percentage was as high as 60%.
“If the national average is 14% of people experiencing low and very low food security, and it’s 44% at the UCs, suddenly you have a huge canary,” says Galarneau. “We are now admitting students knowing half of the population is going to bed hungry.”
While the notion of “starving students” is nothing new and scrimping through the college years on cheap meals of ramen or beans is the norm, the current situation is more serious with an out-of-control real estate market and housing costs skewing student budgets.
To address student hunger Galarneau helped initiate a number of projects at UCSC, including encouraging students to apply for assistance, setting up food pantries and opening a “non-transactional” café where snacks and meals are available for free. Galarneau has made a career out of challenging the assumptions we make about the food system. Because of his tenacity as the communityengaged education coordinator at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) and his propensity to get everyone involved, he has worked steadily over the past 16 years developing teams to even the playing field at the institutional level. The UC Global Food Initiative to address food insecurity, sustainability and justice launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014 was due, in part, to his efforts.
More recently, Galarneau partnered with Ruben Canedo of the Centers for Excellence Equity and Education at UC Berkeley to directly address institutional disconnects in the food system.
Galarneau represented California at a national conference in Philadelphia last fall called “#RealCollege: A National Convening on Food and Housing Insecurity” and was grateful to be able to explain what the state is doing to address basic needs. A few months later, Galarneau took part in a government briefing in Washington, D.C. regarding student access to information about their eligibility for the state food stamp program, which in California is called CalFresh.
“Last year we brought $10 million of CalFresh funding into the UC system from federal funds that do not conflict with financial aid. We can bring over $1–2 million more into our UCSC community that is reinvested into our local food and ag markets,” he says. “Over 6,000 students at UCSC qualify for CalFresh, but we’ve only enrolled 1,100 because they do have to apply.”
STUDENTS HELPING STUDENTS
When Rosalinda Gallegos came to UCSC from a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles as a proud, straight-A junior transfer student and single mother, she was determined to get her degree and make a better life for her son. Unaware that the cost of on-campus family student housing and other expenses might thwart her goals, she did what she’d always done—took on several part-time jobs and kept going. The thought of CalFresh never crossed her mind. She didn’t want to be that customer annoying people in the grocery line while she counted out food stamps for the clerk.
“My first quarter I was tutoring, I was a private investigator, I did contract work translating, I worked as a paralegal. In the winter of my second quarter I was called into the Dean of Students office and offered the job of putting together a resource program for students who could not get their basic needs met,” Gallegos recalls.
Now she supervises more than 20 student ambassadors, each working part-time to help fellow students address basic needs. “And everyone is busy. One person couldn’t do all this work,” she says. Part of the ambassadors’ responsibility is helping students get over the stigma of applying for what used to be called food stamps. CalFresh, for example, can put almost 200 food dollars in their pockets per month.
“Of the ambassadors we trained, each one who was qualified for CalFresh applied for CalFresh,” she says. “And it was powerful because they took that message and carried it out to their peers. They explained that you just go and swipe your card like a debit card. Nobody pays attention. And you don’t have to pay this money back. It’s yours. When you’re done with school it’s your job to pay it forward—donating to the community, telling other people about your struggles and how you got through.”
Other new programs at UC Santa Cruz include dropping the requirement that dorm residents pay for a full meal plan and providing partial plans. Students can donate extra meals left over on their meal plans through a program called Swipes for Slugs.
A non-transactional café called For the People was recently opened at Cowell College to provide free coffee, tea and day-old pastries gleaned by student workers from other campus coffee shops for the swipe of a student I.D. card. Students are also entitled to free nutrient-rich meals procured at cost from local chef Jamie Smith, owner of Foodsmith. Smith’s regular customers are busy high-end families purchasing prepared vegan and paleo meals, so he just makes a few extras. And his devotion to farm-to- table cooking fits right in with another service UCSC provides—permanent and pop-up food pantries with produce from the UCSC Farm.
Field manager Kirstin Yogg was able to use money from the UC Global Food Initiative to install hoop houses at the farm in early 2018 and thereby extend the growing season during the winter when students are on campus. New refrigerated coolers were also part of the budget and help keep food pantry items from the farm available longer past harvest season.
“It has been exciting to work with our undergraduate student staff members to build our food security program on campus. Margaret Bishop, for example, acts as a bridge between the farm and what’s happening on campus. She makes food pantry deliveries, collects student feedback and we adjust our crop plans accordingly, when we can,” says Yogg.
Bishop, co-chair of the Food Systems Working Group, expects her pivotal job of helping UCSC become more responsive to student hunger will lead to work in the emerging food justice sector after graduation.
CABRILLO AND CSUMB
At Cabrillo College in Aptos, the realities for many students are stark and personally upsetting, says Robin West, recently appointed as the campus Homeless and Housing Liaison. Of necessity, this job was created at all community college campuses across California this year. West was inspired by Galarneau’s talk in Philadelphia, also attended by Cabrillo president Matthew Wetstein.
“What I created was an information packet of free community resources, including food and housing services available off campus,” she says, pointing to a long list of food pantries and locations of free hot meals around Santa Cruz County.
West—who is developing a program called Cabrillo Cares—knows students who have been completely homeless their entire time at Cabrillo as they prepare to transfer to a state college or university.
“They may live in their car or their van, they might be couch surfing— we get a lot of that—and they have goals and dreams so they’re willing to temporarily be in that position. Once they get their degree, once they get that skill set, they plan to have a job that allows them to have a roof over their head,” she says.
The new Cabrillo Cares resource spots on the Aptos campus and the campus in Watsonville will have grab and go snacks plus hygiene kits. Cabrillo, as well as UCSC, host regular on-campus food pantries supplied by Second Harvest Food Bank.
California State University, Monterey Bay in Seaside also offers twice weekly food pantries supplied by The Food Bank for Monterey County. Otter Eats is another innovative program at CSUMB that invites students to come to the last 20 minutes of campus events, as guests, when there is an excess of food, and consume it there. Students can opt to be notified when there is available food by texting EATS to 76626.
As the state and community college systems across California join the universities in providing basic needs, they cross-pollinate with creative ideas. At UCSC cooking classes have been added through the recreation program so the carrots, potatoes and onions collected from the farm end up in nutritious soups and stews. A Chopped-TV show-type cooking competition is in the works at Cabrillo, where students can enjoy discovering new recipes in a fun atmosphere. Learning to cook nutritious meals is an important part of stretching limited student budgets.
Ellen Farmer is a freelance writer and organizer living in Santa Cruz.