A new resource is available for UC San Diego students: mobile food pantries. Setting up once a week in various “neighborhoods” around campus, the vans are stocked with a free selection of produce and non-perishables from the main Triton Food Pantry.
Though the main pantry is open every day, it can be difficult for students to cross the sprawling campus to get there. Pop-up pantries provide convenient access to fresh, healthy food near dorms or classes, said basic needs coordinator Alicia Magallanes.
One-quarter of college students experience food insecurity each week, and 36% were housing insecure last year. During Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in November, several events highlighted resources available at UC San Diego.
Attracted by the delicious smell and the iconic white hat, more than 80 students lined up for chef Vaughn Vargas’s pad Thai interactive cooking demonstrations, complete with hot wok. He showed students how to cook noodles and upgrade the meal’s nutritional value with budget-friendly stir-fry veggies.
“The food pantry gets organic produce donated from Leucadia Farmers Market,” said Magallanes, “it’s beautiful.” Fruits and vegetables also come from the student-led Food Recovery Network, UC San Diego’s local chapter of a national student movement, which collects food that would otherwise go to waste. Since 2016, the group has hauled more than 36,000 pounds. A local Vons, San Diego Food Bank, campus dining halls, and other grocery stores also contribute to Triton Food Pantry.
The CalFresh table on Library Walk was another popular stop during awareness week, where students applied for monthly grocery benefits. CalFresh registration is also available at the Hub Basic Needs Center, next to the main food pantry. The Hub, which opened in winter 2018, coordinates efforts across multiple partner organizations so students can learn about — and access — housing and food assistance.
When transfer student Angel Brito came to UC San Diego in 2017, the food pantry stood out to him during a campus tour. Now he works as a CalFresh assistant at the Hub, helping “those who are facing food insecurity and skipping meals to have a place to eat during the day.”
“What I love about working at the Hub is seeing students leave with a smile after they come in stressed out about seeking assistance.”
The Hub also serves two prepared meals a week, packed to go in reusable containers. “All you need is your student ID,” said Magallanes.
While a plethora of resources are available, sometimes the biggest obstacle is knowing when to ask for help. For Anahi Ibarra, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles and experienced homelessness in high school, it wasn’t until she reached out that she began to realize she is not the only one going through these challenges. Fast forward three years and now she dedicates her time as one of the Hub’s first basic needs peer educators.
“We want students to know that we are here to support them and that they shouldn’t feel stigmatized in seeking out our resources,” said Ibarra.
For more information about mobile food pantries, visit ucsd.edu/.