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SOAR to Open Food Pantry for Students

The Student Outreach and Retention Center is set to open up UC Irvine’s first student-run emergency food service at the beginning of 2015.

The SOAR Center has decided to expand its role on campus with the creation of the SOAR Food Pantry program, a program to give financially needy students access to healthy and non-perishable food. The program begins in January, and will provide food relief to low-income and cash-strapped students who have to worry about paying other expenses associated with going to UC Irvine.

“With some students, they are actually debating between paying for food or paying for their education,” said Alexander Fung, a SOAR retention coordinator, commissioner in the ASUCI’s EVP Office and advocate of the SOAR Food Pantry project.

According to Fung, the SOAR Food Pantry program will provide free food to students starting next quarter. In the opinion of Fung and others in SOAR, the issue of food security can and often does affect the ability to pay for higher education. This opinion is reinforced with the news of a proposal to increase UC tuition by five percent in the near future. Fung believes that if this happens, students will cut costs wherever they can.

“They would rather be paying for college than be paying for food, or even healthy food in a sense.”

The leaders of the Food Pantry project appealed to ASUCI in order to get help with publicity and advertising. Fung was assisted by Parshan Khosravi, a commissioner in the EVP office for ASUCI in this effort in addition .

The duo presented the proposal to the ASUCI Legislative Council on their Tuesday meeting. When the Council voted on the proposal  to give their support to the program at their Thursday meeting, they voted unanimously to give their support.

“This is currently, kind of a SOAR Center operation for this, but we brought it up to ASUCI, not because I’m involved with AS but because I see a lot of potential when it comes to expanding in the very near future,” Fung stated when explaining why SOAR went to ASUCI for assistance.

However, there was no set proposal to seek financial support from ASUCI written in the legislation (R50-23). Instead, the group seeks the help of the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) in the form of a grant proposal for $2,500 for this year. Khosravi says the group “(has their) fingers crossed” when referring to the possibility of getting the funding. Fung was also hopeful that SOAR’s grant application would be approved.

“If we acquire that funding, then that will get us launched even faster,” Fung said, though according to him the launch date will still be in January regardless of the outcome.

The Food Pantry program will be funded through SOAR’s temporary funding from the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs’ Office until funds fall 2015. After that, funds from the SOAR student fee referendum will come into effect and pay for SOAR programs.

The program will provide the student body access to non-perishable foods, which will compose mainly of canned foods but may be expanded to include other options if the program gets access to a greater variety of food in the future.

The logistics of the Food Pantry program will be handled by the SOAR Center, which will create a sub-committee charged with managing the various aspects of the project, in addition to SOAR Center Director Dr. Graciela Fernandez. The Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County will provide SOAR the food for the Pantry program under the current plan as outlined by Fung. According to him, the Food Pantry will be open two days a week and will be able to provide one pound of food per student per visit if they fill out the appropriate paperwork.

Those students who show a greater need for food assistance will qualify for the Emergency Food Box Program, which will get them access to more than the one-pound limit that will be put on the rest of the UC Irvine student body. Those students will need the recommendations of UC Irvine social workers in order to qualify.

Despite the fact that the Food Bank hasn’t begun operating yet, Fung is optimistic and looks to see that the program expands before he graduates.

“Right now we are only serving non-perishable foods, so only canned foods for now We are looking forward to expand in the very near future.”