At Tuesday’s Isla Vista Community Services District meeting, Associated Students President-elect Alison Sir unveiled her plan to combat food insecurity through a proposed vending machine dedicated to serving low-income students and residents in Isla Vista.
The vending machine is intended to operate 24/7 and will likely be located outside the Isla Vista Community Room at 970 Embarcadero Del Mar, according to Sir.
During the meeting, Sir said the roughly $14,000 refrigerated vending machine will be built by VendTek, a vending machine company that helps that allows customers to purchase items through a variety of different payment methods, according to the company’s website.
Sir specifically picked VendTek because it would allow for qualified, low-income students’ perm numbers to be uploaded to the vending machine — all they would have to do is swipe their access card. For Santa Barbara City College and non-student low-income residents, Sir said VendTek will provide specially-made cards with barcodes so they can access the vending machine as well.
Initially, Sir planned to have the vending machine stationed on campus, but, after working with UC Santa Barbara administration, she was informed that it would conflict with the school’s “vending machine contracts,” forcing her to take the project off-campus.
Spencer Brandt, board president of the Isla Vista Community Services District (I.V. CSD), expressed interest in the vending machine because “it doesn’t necessarily have to be run in the traditional way that a food pantry is.” However, Sir said the new vending machine will acquire food in a similar manner by obtaining “pre-made, unsold food items.”
Jacob Bider, a third-year environmental studies major, worked with Sir to help find potential sources for food donations. Bider originally canvassed local restaurants such as Bagel Cafe, Buddha Bowls, Cajé, Woodstocks and Pizza My Heart to gauge their interest in donating to a food pantry. He assumed they would also express interest in donating to a vending machine with similar goals.
Sir also reached out to the local Trader Joe’s and Amazon outlets, both of which expressed interest in making food donations in the future.
Sir noted that “about 48% of UCSB undergraduate students surveyed and 31% of graduate students surveyed do not have a consistent source of high-quality, nutritious food.” When food pantries are closed, usually around 7 p.m. at the latest, there is nowhere else to obtain a free meal either on campus or in I.V., according to Sir.
Sir believes the vending machine will also benefit students struggling with housing security, as some students do not have access to a dedicated kitchen to cook meals.
To ensure proper health regulations when serving the repackaged food, Sir reached out to Kendra Wise, an environmental health specialist from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
“Since we are not profiting from this vending machine, we can register as a non-profit organization that’s distributing food. [Wise] recommends that people who are going to help us get their training online to be able to handle this food and repackage it,” Sir said.
“Part of our budget includes all the regulations of what we need to handle this food, and I will be working with Kendra Wise to make sure that this food will fit the Santa Barbara County health regulations.”
Sir placed heavy emphasis on the proposed vending machine’s location, because, unlike on-campus options such as the A.S. Food Bank, the vending machine will be open to non-student residents in I.V. — the only one of its kind.
Correction [May 20, 10:56 a.m.]: A previous version of this article wrongly stated the vending machine would be purchased through the company VendTech, but has been corrected to the right company, VendTek.