700 Students at Risk of Food Insecurity Receive Meals at Home
Santa Monica College (SMC) held a drive-thru pop-up pantry to serve students who are food insecure on last week.
According to SMC, mandatory social distancing and hygiene guidelines were enforced, as 250 bags of non-perishable food items and groceries from Westside Food Bank and SMC’s 10 donor-supported food closets were handed out. In addition, 500 meals from social enterprise Everytable were distributed, plus cupcakes from The Butter End Cakery.
This inaugural drive-thru pantry was designed as an alternative to on-campus food resources that are currently inaccessible to students due to the COVID-19 crisis, the college says. SMC’s classes and student support services are being provided in a completely remote environment through June 16, 2020.
As part of SMC’s food security program are 10 food closets and a new centralized food pantry that will feature refrigeration for fresh produce previously available in the college’s weekly free farmers’ market.
In addition, the college has received hundreds of donated meals from Everytable in lieu of rent for its presence at the SMC Center for Media and Design (the new pantry’s launch was delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis); a meal voucher program sponsored by SMC’s Associated Students; and a partnership with CalFresh to get eligible students enrolled to receive benefits.
South Los Angeles resident and SMC psychology major Quenarii Lampkin was one of the recipients of today’s drive-thru pop-up pantry. She was “surprised.” “I was expecting canned goods—but we also got cereal, milk, things to prep a meal with, like spaghetti noodles and tomato sauce, and Everytable meals I can just microwave!” Lampkin said.
Another unexpected highlight of the experience was “driving through and [seeing that] the person I got my food from was the president of the college. She acknowledged me like she knew who I was. She asked me how I was, and [whether I was] adjusting to classes. I didn’t feel rushed—I felt she was genuinely concerned and happy to see me. It was a great feeling . . . a bit of light in the uncertain times right now.”
Lampkin, who had headed straight from high school to Hampton University, an HBCU in Virginia, was unable to stay there because of a lack of financial support from family. When she moved back to Los Angeles, she heard from friends who went to SMC that it was “the Ivy League of community colleges, and that [it was] number one in transfers.”
SMC Superintendent/President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery said that the college’s goal is to “ensure that students who are in need during this time know, and feel, that the college is here to support them. “This current crisis has created a set of difficult circumstances for many,” she said. “We fully intend to continue to serve students as best as we can during this public health crisis. It is hard for students to focus on classes when they are hungry!”
Dr. Susan Fila—SMC’s Director of Health & Wellbeing, who oversees the college’s food security programs—pointed out that the college has a long history of providing food resources to students. In describing the college-wide effort which included employees from facilities, risk management, the SMC Police Department, health & wellness, the SMC Foundation, night-shift custodians, and many more, Fila called the day “truly amazing.” “To see the smiles and sometimes tears on our students’ faces when they realized how much food they were putting in their cars . . . it was heartwarming,” she added.
SMC plans to hold a weekly drive-through pop-up pantry to provide food as long as LA County Department of Public Health and local authorities’ guidelines permit. This will complement the SMC Foundation’s Meal Project, a subscription service that has been launched to provide meal deliveries to the homes of students who are at risk for hunger and food insecurity.
Meal Project: 700 Students Receive Meals at Home
The SMC Foundation recently launched a $2 million fundraising campaign for the Meal Project which seeks to ensure that students identified as being at great risk for hunger and food insecurity—including homeless students, veterans, former foster youth, and seniors—do not suffer the consequences of a time that has left hundreds in unstable economic circumstances. To date—and at the end of the first week of the Meal Project—700 at-risk students have begun to receive healthy, chef-prepared meals dropped off via a subscription service with Everytable.
The Meal Project received a $500,000 seed donation from Santa Monica College through grant funds; a $200,000 lead gift from angel donor Ann Wang and The Wang Family Trust; and $35,000 from the SMC Associated Students.
“We launched this program 10 days ago to find a way to fill the enormous gap that exists between our students and their access to food,” said SMC Dean of Institutional Advancement Lizzy Moore, who serves as the foundation’s president. “Our goal is to feed 3,000 students each week with seven meals delivered to their homes so they—and everyone else—can stay safe!”
In order to identify students in need, the SMC Foundation is collaborating with SMC’s Emeritus Program for older adults, and the college’s special programs including the Latino Center, Black Collegians, Veterans Resource Center, Guardian Scholars (for current and former foster youth), and many more. Based on a recently conducted survey of students who are not in one of these programs, but are otherwise enrolled at the college, there are hundreds more who need the assistance.
“Word is getting out and we are saying ‘yes!’ to every student who needs support!” said Moore, who also stated that, to the best of her knowledge, no other college or an associated foundation is undertaking a food security campaign of this dimension. The campaign is still $1 million away from its goal, which would allow SMC to feed 3,000 students for three more months, while the college operates in a remote environment (Tax-deductible donations may be made at santamonicacollegefoundation.org/mealproject).
When she was approached by Lizzy Moore to help communicate with students in need, SMC counselor Sara Nieves-Lucas was taken back to her childhood. “The first thing I remembered when I heard about the Meal Project was . . . not having food growing up and how we took advantage of provided services,” Nieves-Lucas said. It took a moment for her to go on. “There was this old man named Michael. He’d go through the streets of our neighborhood. He knew a lot of the parents had gotten laid off and so he’d honk his horn and provide us with quarters, and food. [Similarly], today was also a reminder of how we are here not just to keep our students healthy but to also keep them in school. Having a full belly will allow them to continue their education.”
Nieves-Lucas describes the need of students’ receiving meals at home as “absolutely critical.” “Students are losing jobs, their family members are losing jobs,” she said. “Even under normal circumstances, students come to see a counselor not just for academics but the conversation will turn to [personal matters], ‘I’m having problems at home’ or there’s domestic abuse. COVID-19 has impacted their lives – there’s a lack of resources, of technology. Many immigrant students never thought this would happen to them here in the great United States of America . . . it’s good to feel like we [at SMC] can be there for them.”
To find more information on the college’s food security programs (including the pop-up drive-through pantry) visit smc.edu/foodsecurity or email Fila_Susan@smc.edu, and to learn more about the Meal Project and the SMC Foundation, email Moore_Lizzy@smc.edu.