Associated Students Food Bank Aims to Fight Stigma Surrounding Food, Finance Anxieties and Provides Free Meals, Necessities to Enrolled Students
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When students are paying over $12,000 in tuition each year — and that does not include textbooks, housing and other fees — food costs can become a real financial burden, so the Associated Students Food Bank offers up nonperishable goods to students in need several times a week.
The Associated Students Food Bank provides canned and boxed foods and toiletries to undergraduate and graduate students in need of a meal or just a snack during money-tight living. A student-run service, the food bank is located on the third floor of the University Center and is open on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some of the items offered include opportunities to stock up on free items like canned beans, breakfast cereals, canned fruits, canned vegetables, canned meats, instant noodles, sauces and soups.
With an annual budget of $113,438, the food bank spends almost half of their budget — $50,654 — on staff costs, while spending only $34,684 on food. Another $1,000 is set aside for outreach and marketing, $2,500 for office supplies, $600 for water, $2,000 for equipment and furniture for the room, $2,000 for refrigeration, $3,000 for transportation and $20,000 for additional services. According to Staff Supervisor and Food Bank Advisor Tuyen Nguyen, the additional service money is set aside for “unexpected costs,” such as if the Food Bank is unable to reach fundraising goals for more food costs.
The Food Bank also offers a selection of toiletry items such as shampoo, toilet paper, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Depending on the item category, students are permitted to take one to two items from each.
According to Nguyen, over 2,600 students have walked through the doors of the Food Bank for a total of 24,000 visits since it opened in April 2011. Nguyen said students come to utilize the service for reasons ranging from not having enough daily meals to not having been able to eat at all.
“It provides the opportunity to relieve students with chronic hunger or who might just need a snack for the day,” Nguyen said.
The Food Bank was set up in response to an October 2011 Student Financial and Food Needs Survey of 2,150 students that brought to light increasing student financial needs. According to third-year economics and accounting major Erick Lankey, Chair of the A.S. Food Bank Committee, the Food Bank compensates for students’ tight fiscal situations incurred by rising tuition prices and the need for financial aid.
“A.S. has created something that people can use in those tough times,” Lankey said. “It provides a safety net, something you can turn to when it gets tough.”
Third-year black studies major Derrick Hayes uses the Food Bank and said he has witnessed the growth of the service since its founding in 2011. Hayes said in light of rising tuition costs, he sees the service as an essential crutch to the lives of many students in need of its pantry items.
“It’s one of the best services that A.S. provides for students. I mean, it’s eating food — it has a very big impact on student life,” he said. “Without the Food Bank, a lot of us would not know what to do.”
The Food Bank currently sponsors or holds a number of programs and events including holiday dinners or collaborative dinners with on and off campus organizations and stores, donation drives and food demonstrations that educate students about healthier eating. Additionally, according to Nguyen, it offers information sessions about CalFresh — a program federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that helps low-income people purchase foods with necessary nutritional amounts — for students with more long-term need.
“Sometimes we see students come in visibly distressed, and after getting food, they seem to be happier, able to plan and move forward to the next step,” Nguyen said. “We can provide an immediate stress release, so they can then focus on other issues such as academics, and we refer people to other services that can help them further.”
The Food Bank looks forward to possible expansion and further development through creating a larger lounge space and establishing refrigeration, which would allow the Food Bank to serve perishable foods and thus offer healthier meals. This way, Nguyen said she hopes the service can improve and serve even more students, especially the houseless students in Isla Vista or those who avoid the service due to stigmatic issues.
“The next step is to really reach out to students who fall through the cracks,” Nguyen said. “We have to alleviate the shame around the Food Bank and eliminate the stigma of asking for help.”
In order to be eligible for the Food Bank’s services, students must present a UCSB access card or other student photo identification at the door and will need to sign a self declaration of income every time they come in. All selections made by Food Bank users remain confidential.
Both monetary or item donations are welcomed and accepted by the Food Bank. Monetary donations made be done online at foodbank.as.ucsb.edu/donate-2/ and item donations can be dropped off at the Financial Aid Office, Cheadle Hall Lobby, Student Resource building, Student Health, Education Building, A.S. Main Office or the A.S. Admin Office. A.S. Food Bank Committee meetings occur every Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. in the A.S. Food Bank Lounge.
A version of this story appeared on page 4 of Thursday, January 16, 2014′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.