Food for Thought

Students keep each other well with the Triton Food Pantry

Anyone who’s been to college knows what it means to save money on food. (Top Ramen, anyone?) Yet food insecurity, when it’s a day-to-day reality and not just a budget-saving measure, is happening at college campuses around the country, including UC San Diego.

30570487953_9c2f8ac451_zAccording to a University of California survey,  about 23 percent of UC students
experienced low food security and another 19 percent were experiencing very low food security. UC San Diego and its student body have responded to this widespread concern by opening the Triton Food Pantry, offering free food for students in need of discreet assistance.

“A food pantry on campus will provide needed relief to some students who may not have nutritious and varied food options on a daily basis. It will help ensure the academic success of students of all backgrounds,” says Sharon Van Bruggen, director of University Centers.

Located on the first floor of the original student center, the Triton Food Pantry is part of a network of resources on campus—including need-based aid and emergency loans—created for students who may be faced with unforeseen financial circumstances. All registered undergraduate and graduate students with a valid UC San Diego identification card can confidentially pick up free groceries whenever necessary. “Every student gets 10 points per week and one visit per week,” explains Muir College student Lesly Figueroa ’18, one of the pantry’s managers. “Within that visit, they are able to use up to 10 points with whatever food is here, and every item has a different value.”

The pantry is stocked with supplies bought in bulk at a low cost from the San Diego Food Bank. It is also supported by donations from students made through the UC San Diego chapter of Swipes for the Homeless—a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating hunger around the world by allowing college students to donate unused dining dollars to other students in need. With more private support, the plan is to expand offerings to include fresh produce and refrigerated options.

Members of the student body and university administration celebrate the opening of the Triton Food Pantry.

The Triton Food Pantry is a collaborative effort made possible after Patty Mahaffey, Muir College’s dean of Student Affairs, brought the idea to the university’s Associated Students (AS)Council. Rallying around the cause, Mahaffey and the AS Council quickly garnered $50,000 of initial funding from UC San Diego’s Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Juan Gonzáles. “As much as there was support administratively for this project, it is a beautiful example of students coming together to help other students,” says Mahaffey.

Today, more than 250 students a week take part in the services offered by the pantry.

The UC San Diego Triton Food Pantry opened in February 2015 and joins a network of other food pantries that have been established at University of California campuses in response to the increasingly visible issue of food security at universities across the country.

30358703996_04cb07c97a_z“The ultimate goal is for the Food Pantry to not exist at all,” says Mahaffey. “But to get to that point, we need to better understand the contributing factors of food insecurity and homelessness among our students. There is a UC-wide effort to tackle this issue, and it will take time.”