Stanislaus State senior Yaritzza Jacobo stood in line on campus Tuesday morning, eager for what awaited her. It can be a struggle to get food on the table at her house, but a recently-implemented school program helped her take home a box full of nutritious goods that will ease the strain of her family’s food insecurity — an issue that plagues countless students throughout the university.
Students in need can now receive a free box of food monthly thanks to Stanislaus State’s food distribution service, which is part of the college’s Basic Needs program. Canned foods, boxed dinners and even proteins like ground beef are made available to students free of charge through the service, which is just one of many initiatives on campus meant to support students so that they are successful.
“I think it’s great because sometimes you need help and need to eat,” Jacobo said. “Sometimes I have to decide between getting gas or buying food, so it’s nice to have a backup in place where I can go if I need to.”
Held twice a month, the food distributions are made possible by support from the California Faculty Association, which purchases the boxes, and the United Samaritans Foundation, which provides food for the boxes through the United States Department of Agriculture.
According to Stanislaus State Care Manager Jennifer Sturtevant, the need for food distribution has been present on campus for years, but student hunger has often been romanticized as simply part of the college experience. Now, living on a diet of Top Ramen isn’t viewed as a rite of passage, but as a cause for concern.
“People used to say that’s just the college life, but really, studies have found it really affects students’ ability to think in class,” Sturtevant said. “If you’re worrying about where you get your next meal from, you can’t be successful in class.”
A 2018 study conducted by the California State University Chancellor’s Office found that 41.6 percent of students in the CSU system reported experiencing food insecurity. Based on USDA guidelines, “low” food security includes reports of reduced quality, variety and desirability in a student’s diet, while “very low” food security involves instances where a student’s food intake is reduced and their eating patterns are disrupted due to a lack of food.
“With low food security, a student doesn’t have enough money to buy fresh food and groceries, but maybe they can buy chips and a granola bar,” Sturtevant said. “When their security is very low, they’re missing meals altogether.”
By filling out a USDA form, Stanislaus State students are able to receive a free food box at one of two monthly distributions. Since the beginning of the fall semester, the service has provided food to almost 500 students. The students who utilize the service range from those who live in the dorms to commuters like Jacobo, who lives in Manteca with her mom and two teenage brothers.
“It will help us all out,” Jacobo said. “Part of it is the time, because with school I don’t have time to go grocery shopping and make food, and the other part is not having money to buy food.”
The food distribution box items supplement goods students can grab for free in the Warrior Food Pantry — another Basic Needs initiative where students can collect up to 10 items per week. Other initiatives include helping students apply for the CalFresh nutrition assistance program, psychological counseling, health center services and the Campus Cares fund, which uses crowdsourcing to provide money to students in a bind.
“It’s really about giving back to the community as a whole,” Sturtevant said. “Helping students succeed will ultimately help our community and region, so it’s great to be able to provide support for things that are tough in life.”