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Stan State faculty union donates $35K to battle campus hunger, homelessness
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Food and housing insecurity is well-documented among California State University campuses as the initial findings of a statewide study on poverty among students throughout the system released in January revealed that an estimated 8 to 12 percent of CSU students as homeless, and 21 to 24 percent are food-insecure. - photo by Journal file photo

In an effort to combat student hunger and homelessness on campus, the Stanislaus State California Faculty Association chapter made a $35,000 donation to its Campus Cares Fund — money that will go towards providing help to students in need, whether it is in the form of immediate financial assistance, personal supplies or food.

“I am extremely impressed by this expression of compassion toward our students from our CFA, and it is consistent with the overwhelming faculty generosity I’ve seen in my five months here,” said Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn. “It means so much to me personally that our faculty is so invested in not only the education of our students, but also their overall well-being.”

This donation to Campus Cares Fund includes $10,000 that will go towards ongoing operating expenses of the Student Emergency Fund and Warrior Food Pantry and $25,000 to establishment and endowment to provide continuing support for the fund.

“It boils down to the fact that we’re teachers and we care about our students and their ability to learn,” said Stanislaus State CFA chapter president Steven Filling. “We know students struggle to learn when they’re worried about their utilities being shut off or when they skip meals because they can’t afford food. There are teachers that routinely bring food to their classes for students. The food disappears and suddenly students are a lot more engaged in the learning process. This is in line with the large body of research in K-12 demonstrating that the free breakfast/lunch program is one of the most effective mechanisms we’ve found for improving learning outcomes.”

Through the Student Emergency Fund, Stanislaus State students can receive immediate financial assistance in the event that they experience an emergency situation, crisis or catastrophic event that puts them in a temporary financial hardship.

Housed in the University Student Union, the Warrior Food Pantry opened just before Thanksgiving due to the combined efforts of Associated Students Incorporated, Hunger Network Club and Masters of Social Work Program. The food pantry gives students access to food and basic personal supplies at no-cost to them and is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“The food pantry was on our campus by  different efforts from different clubs for nine years, but our vice president, Carlene Dyer, advocated for us to take it on as an initiative and help out with our resources by contributing funds and student assistance,” said ASI President Nicole Larson. “We wanted to make it more of a collective front and combine all resources, which we did.”

Larsen said that the Warrior Food Pantry is currently stocked with donations collected from student government events and roughly $300 worth of food and other basic supplies for students. To use the food pantry, Larson said a student comes in — no questions asked — and lets them know that they want to access the food pantry. The pantry itself is in a confidential, private area and once students get the food and supplies they need, they can exit through the back door.

“The overall goal from our perspective is to try and help as many students as we can as quickly as possible,” said Larson. “A lot of statistics say that one out of five students are going hungry and that really hinders their ability to concentrate on their education. We just needed to open up and provide something and we have a lot of really passionate student groups and helpful administrators to help make this process happen.

“Long-term, we would like to make a dent in food insecurity and fight the stigma of food insecurity. We want students to know that it is okay and that we are here to help other students,” she added.

Larson said that while ASI continues to meet with Hunger Network Club and the Masters of Social Work Program to determine how to make the Warrior Food Pantry sustainable, she regarded Stanislaus State CFA’s donation as an “answer to all of our prayers.”

“Carlene and I were absolutely speechless — dumbfounded — by not only the huge amount of money that could help us be sustainable, but because this is something that CFA hasn’t done before,” said Larson. “It is a huge honor and it is really gratifying to see good work pay off, especially when it is in the service of other people.”

Food and housing insecurity is well-documented among California State University campuses as the initial findings of a statewide study on poverty among students throughout the system released in January revealed that an estimated 8 to 12 percent of CSU students as homeless, and 21 to 24 percent are food-insecure.

 “When that study was released I fielded a number of calls from news media and the community. One of the common questions was whether I felt the greater than 20 percent figure was reasonable,” said Filling. “That’s around 90,000 CSU students across the state, and yes, it does reflect the experiences of our teachers. I’ve had conversations with struggling students, and suggested that they would find it much easier to do well in the class if they bought the textbook. Students often responded that they had to make choices between paying their bills, buying textbooks or buying food.”

In a campus wide study of hunger and homelessness in 2010, Stanislaus State was able to determine that 43 percent of students skipped a meal and 81 percent had to decrease their food purchases during the academic year due to financial hardships.

In regards to the Stanislaus State CFA donation, Filling noted that it was an indicator of how effectively Junn has brought the campus community together to meet the needs of students since she started earlier this year.

“Knowing that the President and the entire campus community share our commitment to making an immediate impact on the challenges our students face was a deciding factor for the contribution,” said Filling. “We are very pleased to work with President Junn, Associated Students Inc., and a wide array of student organizations to make a difference in our community.

“The feeling of making an immediate impact is satisfying, and there’s a strong awareness that many of our students are food and/or housing-insecure. It’s an urgent need and this is our community stepping up to participate in addressing the challenges our students face,” continued Filling.