By Frank Alli
As students shuffle into the room, they hear: “Hey, have you eaten yet today?”
The question comes from a COC staffer who is surrounded by shelves of canned foods.
Many COC students spend as much as 12 hours a day on campus, and buying three meals a day, several times a week, can break their budget. Hence: there’s a new food bank on campus for “food insecure” students.
“I come here three times a week to campus,” says Myles, a COC student who uses the food bank regularly. On the days he doesn’t, he’ll blow $40 on meals at the cafeteria. So why not feed himself for free?
To help ease the strain on a student’s wallet, COC has announced the opening of the The Basic Needs Center (BaNC), formerly known as the Food for Thought Pantry. The BaNC provides free food, clothing, toiletries, shower kits, on-site microwave access, and also offers housing and social services to students currently enrolled at COC.
“No student should have to worry about how to meet their basic needs while pursuing their academic goals,” says Brenda Clarke, BaNC coordinator. “We have been overwhelmed with student interest and participation so far.” Right now the BaNc serves about 300 students each week.
A 2015 HOPE Lab study found that a large segment of community college students reported, “high levels of food and housing insecurity.” Thirteen percent of students reported that they experienced homelessness, and more than 50 percent experienced some kind of food insecurity.
“When I’m hungry and I’m worried about money, I’m really scared,” says 19 year-old first year student Sapphire Sandoval. “If I can go an extra hour without eating I’ll do it. The food bank really helps because I don’t feel that anxiety as much.”
The food bank also helps Sandoval deal with the stress of balancing her studies along with several jobs. “The BaNC helps me get through the day. Typically just food wise, staying on top of my game at school. I don’t have to pay attention to whether my stomach is growling. I can prevent migraines, because I used to get them very frequently, like multiple times a week. But mostly through stresses, and it eliminates one of those factors which is food or not eating right.”
When asked if she had ever neglected her studies due to a concern over food or finances, Sandoval answered emphatically, “No!” “That is the last thing I want to do, I never want to neglect my studies because that’s the reason I’m here.”
Other students say that worrying about food and finances has affected their academic performance.
“If you’re hungry, it means that you can’t concentrate, you can’t really focus to the best of your ability,” says DeShaun Lavender, a 45 year-old film major.
One of the reasons that students rely on the food bank is the high cost of living in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“Here in Santa Clarita rent is very, very expensive, especially near campus. It’s kind of outrageous. Most of my expenses go to my rent, food, electrical bill, gas for my car and books,” says Jacob Sola, who lives in a single parent household with his mom and younger brother.
Sandoval explains that there are times when she has to decide whether to choose between going to work or to attend class.
“There are some days I have to skip class because I have to work, because I know I won’t be able to pay my bills, or I’m scared that I won’t have enough [money],” she states. “Not having money is very stressful, I get nervous, I don’t want to get a bad grade in class, or lose out on participation, because I need to work. Some days you have to weigh the options.”
Sola adds that the food bank makes it easy for students who may feel uneasy about using its services. “The benefit is that all students are welcome, and if you do have a low socioeconomic status, you don’t have to talk about it. Many students are embarrassed about it. It’s something that somebody might feel shameful about.”
Sandoval has also agonized about needing to use the services of the food bank, but she realizes that she needs this resource. “At first I was really nervous about it, because I didn’t like the self judgement. I feel like I shouldn’t need this, but I do.”
To make ends meet students have to work additional hours, which can have an affect on their academics.
“Working additional hours has affected my studies,” says Lavender. “Sometimes I am not able to study as much because I have to go to work. Or after work I have to go to school, and I may be a little tired. I try my best to stay on top of it.”
While the food bank has been a blessing to some students, Sola says that additional assistance programs are needed.
“The food bank is easing the struggles of students, but students are still struggling, we need more programs just like the food bank.”