By Ian Edwards
The Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR) Food Pantry, along with other Orange County food security organizations, opened its first free mobile farmer’s market in celebration of National Food Day last Monday, Oct. 24. The farmer’s market, at the Lower Gateway Plaza, gave hundreds of perishables to UCI students throughout the morning.
Despite the rain, students lined up to receive their free groceries. Music played while a row of tables was filled with produce such as tomatoes, onions and apples along with other non-perishable food items such as cookies and crackers.
At the end of the rows of food, representatives from CalFresh and the Second Harvest Food Bank were present. CalFresh representatives informed students of their state-wide initiative to get those who qualify for food assistance access to healthy foods. Second Harvest is a food bank which serves 335,000 residents of Orange County.
According to the event’s directors, the mobile farmer’s market was a long-anticipated initiative for the Food Pantry.
“We need to think not only about if students have enough meals,” UCI alumnus and SOAR Center Food Security Coordinator, Andrea Gutierrez said, “but also whether or not the calories they are consuming are nutritiously adequate for a healthy lifestyle.”
SOAR’s food pantry is a student-initiated campus resource which aims to increase food security for UCI students. The pantry is open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the fall. No requirements for the pantry are needed except a UCI student ID.
Students may visit the Food Pantry once a week, at which time they can get 15 “points” worth of food per visit. Students can earn an extra point by bringing their own reusable bag. Foods are worth one, two or three points, each labelled yellow, green, and blue respectively. A project led by the Muslim Student Union now offers toiletries at the pantry, which account for 5 points not included in the 15 food points.
According to Gutierrez, student leaders spearheaded the Food Pantry Initiative, and put its sustained funding up for a referendum in UCI’s spring 2016 elections. UCI students voted to approve the referendum, and pay $3 of student fees per quarter for the pantry’s maintenance. Now, due to that student effort, the pantry will be funded for the next ten years and organized by professional staff.
In addition to the sustained funding of the pantry, students have also advocated for sponsored ARC cooking classes, nutrition workshops with the campus registered dietician and community programming in housing with the American Heart Association.
Gutierrez is currently focused on addressing the pantry’s limited storage space.
“[The pantry] is currently engaging in conversations about a potential location for the food pantry expansion. We are hoping to move forward with the expansion by the end of this academic year,” she said.
As part of the Global Food Initiative created by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014, the UC Irvine Food Pantry belongs to a broader movement in the University of California system to address the issue of food insecurity on a scientific and community level. Napolitano allocated $75,000 to each campus in 2015 to increase food security measures.
“Student leaders, volunteers, and supporters have played a crucial role in broadening the conversation about how food insecurity affects college students” Gutierrez said. She encourages students to “share their stories so that other students will know that they are not alone, and that help is available on campus.”