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More Than 1,000 Food-Insecure Santa Monica College Students Gifted Thanksgiving Groceries

3rd Annual GIVING THANKS(giving) event returns

By Sam Catanzaro

As college students across Southern California continue to struggle accessing basic needs to thrive and continue their academic pursuits, Santa Monica College (SMC) ramped up its efforts to provide its students with fundamental living essentials including food, housing support, transportation, childcare, and more. As part of its Basic Needs program, led and organized by the Santa Monica College Foundation, the college hosted its 3rd Annual GIVING THANKS(giving) grocery giveaway on Tuesday, November 22 that provided fresh, holiday groceries to 1,100 students experiencing food insecurity.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food costs have spiked 11.4% during the past year – the largest annual increase since May 1979. In fact, some analysts suggest that dining out for Thanksgiving this year may be more affordable than cooking at home as year-over-year cost increases in commodities have soared. When it comes to Thanksgiving specifically, year-over-year cost increases include eggs by 32.5%, butter by 25.8% and flour by 17.1%, accounting for some of the biggest contributors to the overall price jump consumers are facing when buying ingredients for the big meal.

“With more than 50% of students at Santa Monica College experiencing basic needs insecurity, including adequate access to food and/or housing, our students are exceptionally challenged to fulfill their academic ambitions in that there is evidence to support that ability to focus in the classroom can be directly linked to personal safety and nutrition,” said Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, Superintendent/President, Santa Monica College. “The GIVING THANKS(giving) event, coordinated by the Santa Monica College Foundation, is a cornerstone of our far-reaching food security program that encompasses an on-campus Bodega stocked with free food and living essentials and free meals provided by generous donations to ensure that our students have their basic needs met.” 

A national study by The Hope Center in 2021 indicated that nearly three in five college students experienced basic needs insecurity, with food insecurity affecting 39% of students attending community colleges. With the support of many non-profit partners, local businesses and corporations, Santa Monica College’s Basic Needs Program works to ensure that students have their basic needs met, especially access to nutritious, fresh food. Many studies show that students impacted by food insecurity are less likely to persist, transfer, or graduate from a four-year university and fail to reach their academic ambitions.

Since the event began in 2020, upwards of 4,000 students have received the gift of a Thanksgiving meal. The free groceries included the student’s choice of a turkey or vegetarian protein, fresh vegetables including green beans, potatoes, carrots, onions, yams, celery, plus dinner rolls, a pumpkin pie, butter, salt and pepper, non-alcoholic beverages, recipes, customized online tutorials, and a disposable turkey pan.

“Students at our college and across the country are struggling for their very basics – to eat, to have safe housing and reliable transportation, among so many other fundamental needs,” said Margaret Sohagi, Santa Monica College Foundation Board Chair. “By coming together as a community at events like GIVING THANKS(giving), we continue to prioritize these types of basic needs programs and make a true difference in the lives of our students as they pursue their dreams and academic ambitions.”

To help the students prepare their meal, Celebrity Chef Mary Sue Milliken hosted a virtual Holiday Cooking Q&A on Monday, November 21. 

“College students facing food insecurity in America today is completely unacceptable,” said Milliken. “Fortunately, many determined and generous individuals and organizations are working to increase access to nutritious food. Santa Monica College is leading the way, creating innovative and effective programs to eliminate the need for students to choose between basic needs, healthy meals and their education.”

For students without personal transportation, SMC Foundation and the SMC Associated Students provided free, one-way Lyft ride vouchers to students.  

GIVING THANKS(giving) event sponsors and partners this year included Santa Monica College, Santa Monica College Foundation, SMC’s Associated Students, KCRW 89.9FM, Jacmar Foodservice Distribution, Costco, Vicente Foods, Gelson’s Market, and Whole Foods Markets. 

“The roots of the GIVING THANKS(giving) event can be found in the holiday gatherings with students and faculty that was started many years ago,” said Wendi DeMorst, MA, SMC Interim Associate Dean of Student Instructional Support. “And while the current event was borne out of necessity during the pandemic, it has carried on the tradition of giving and supporting thousands of students at Santa Monica College. It is so gratifying to see this tradition blossom and grow.”

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