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FRESH Opening Brings OC Community Together on Issues of Food Insecurity

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By Eliza Partika

The FRESH Basic Needs Hub opened to the UCI student body last Wednesday. Hundreds of students and community members as well as local media outlets attended the ribbon-cutting event..

At the opening, the FRESH Basic Needs Hub provided passports for guests to tour the space in three sections; the Welcome Desk and Seed Lab, which allows students to pick the seeds of their choice and learn how to grow them for food production; the Pantry, which includes fresh fruits and vegetables as well as frozen and non-perishable items; and the Community Kitchen, where students can watch cooking demonstrations from campus chefs, as well as cook their own food.

“We are all really excited for this new chapter,” Janice Huang, who was part of UCI’s 2006 Food Pantry Initiative, said.

Vania Agama, a FRESH intern, added, “We all have been involved since FRESH opened at SOAR, and it’s amazing to see how much it’s grown.”

In a 2016 study of food-insecure students from the National Campaign Against Student Hunger, it was found that 56 percent of food-insecure students reported having a paid job; 38 percent of those students worked 20 hours or more a  week.

 Having a meal plan does not exempt students from experiencing food insecurity.  In the same study by the National Campaign Against Student Hunger, researchers found that 43 percent of students enrolled in four-year colleges still experienced food insecurity.  At UCI alone, 22.9 percent of students must occasionally skip or cut down the size of their meals because they don’t have enough money for food.

FRESH began the Zot Out Hunger program, a variation of Swipe Out Hunger, to combat this growing cause of food insecurity. The program allows students to donate their extra meal swipes to food-insecure students. During the fall quarter, the Swipe Squad, a collaboration between ASUCI’s Food Security Co-Commissioners and the FRESH Basic Needs Hub, will be raising funds to ensure all students have access to on-campus dining halls. Their funding goal is $10,000. All funding proceeds will go directly to FRESH Basic Needs Hub and the Zot Out Hunger Program.

Theresa Gaspar, a third-year intern for FRESH, beamed as she discussed the pantry’s progress in recent years.

“The voices of students and staff have come together on this issue, and that really shows how far we have come.”