UC Irvine Opens Largest Food Pantry in Calif. School System

A 2015 survey found that 19 percent of students in the UC school system have experienced reduced food intake due to limited resources.

UC Irvine Opens Largest Food Pantry in Calif. School System

The survey also found that 4 out of 10 students in the UC system do not have consistent access to nutritious meals.

UC Irvine has opened a 1,800-square-foot food pantry to accommodate the startling number of students struggling with hunger.

The Irvine food pantry is now the largest in the entire University of California system, which consists of 10 different schools.

UC says 4 out of 10 students in its schools do not have consistent access to nutritious meals, reports Food and Wine.

The food pantry, called The FRESH Basic Needs Hub, opened on Wednesday, replacing the school’s previous food pantry that opened in 2015.

Aside from offering free food, the pantry is also offering its own kitchenette for student use, cookbooks for students searching for recipe ideas and 15 different seeds for students who may want to do their own farming.

At the grand opening, Jessica Van Roo, a culinary education director, conducted cooking demonstrations.

“If you don’t know how to make food, we can show you,” says Van Roo. “You can get free food, but if you don’t know how to cook, it’s a struggle.”

2015 Hunger Survey and UC’s Plan to Combat Hunger

The UC Global Food Initiative conducted a survey in Spring 2015, selecting a sample of 66,000 students from the entire UC school system. Approximately 9,000 students completed the survey.

The survey found that 19 percent of students in the UC system have experienced “very low” food security, which the USDA defines as “experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources”.

An additional 23 percent have experienced “low” food security, defined as “reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake”.

After reviewing the survey’s findings, UC developed a plan to combat hunger amongst its students. The plan included expanding food pantry storage and access, expanding awareness campaigns on student support services and food access, and increasing collaboration with state and county offices to register students for CalFresh, California’s nutrition assistance program.

The survey also found that nearly one-third of those who reported struggling had difficulty studying due to hunger. One-fourth reported they have had to choose between paying for food and paying for educational expenses or housing.

In July 2016, UC president Janet Napolitano approved $3.3 million in new funding for the following two years to give students regular access to nutritious foods, both on and off campus. The new funding has been split evenly among the ten schools, giving each $151,000, in addition to the $75,000 each campus was allocated in 2015.

The UC system also has a “Swipe Out Hunger” program that allows students to donate extra money through their meal plans to help students in need.

Ernest Devin Rankin, a current UC Irvine student, told the LA Times that he grew up on one meal a day. His disabled parents were raising six children and struggling to stretch food stamps and disability payments.

Once he started attending UC Irvine, he had to purchase the cheapest meal plan, which only offered 100 meals a semester. He says when those meals ran out, he would ask friends for help or bought items from dollar menus at fast food restaurants.

“It means the world to me knowing there are people who will fight for students like me,” says Rankin of the new food pantry. He is currently a sophomore majoring in public health policy and educational science.

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Amy Rock is Campus Safety's senior editor. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Education.

She has worked in the publishing industry since 2011, in both events and digital marketing.

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