UCI’s Food Pantry has used a recent increase in funding to rebrand itself as the “FRESH Basic Needs Hub” (the Hub) this year, upgrading its base of operations as well as its services to students. The Hub is UCI’s response to the financial challenges some students experience, offering free basic necessities to any student who visits their office in Lot 5 (it’s a relief to see Lot 5 handing out edible food for once) and more benefits to students who qualify for their programs. Its existence is vital for the wellbeing of all those in the UCI community, allowing those who need help to seek it in a safe, non-discriminatory place.
The Hub’s most basic function is to give students free food and toiletries on a weekly basis. Despite having a small headquarters last year, I always left my visits to their previous location beneath the Gateway Study Center impressed by the organization and expediency that their operation boasts.
Students have a certain amount of tokens to redeem on their school IDs and are told to choose goods adding up to that amount. After checking out with an employee, the process is over after only a few minutes (save for a wait depending on the amount of people who came through that day). The employees on duty explain everything quickly and don’t try to wrap you up in future events, making the experience feel more like a trip to a tiny grocery store than a cleverly disguised recruitment session.
I know that some people have reservations about visiting the Hub due to fears of publicly asking and receiving help from the school. This fear is quickly put to rest by the Hub’s unintimidating, painless operation. The staff isn’t overbearing; the process is simple enough to go through in a matter of minutes, and students get a free tote bag if they don’t have one of their own.
There are still those who find going to the Hub embarrassing, but its purpose is not to just help students who come from less financially stable backgrounds. A 2016 vote added a $3 fee to all UCI students’ financial accounts, meaning that students help to fund the Hub regardless of whether or not they use it. Not only does the Hub offer help to any student who asks for it, it is funded by those they serve. There should be no shame in visiting a campus utility that is partially made viable through our attendance at school.
Furthermore, increased traffic coming through the Hub could potentially call for more funding to befall them, meaning additional items and bigger events such as the occasional free farmer’s markets and holiday produce drives. If you genuinely need to visit the Hub but are holding back for some reason, visiting once just to see how it works could only do you good.
Having a food pantry on campus is becoming more and more common, and I am glad that UCI’s is as well-designed as it is. It is refreshing to see campuses across the UC system adopting similar programs, proving that people are aware of others’ financial backgrounds and are willing to do something to alleviate their troubles however possible.
The Hub is an essential part of the UCI campus that speaks to the community and kindness we extend to one another everyday. I am proud to see it in its infancy, and can’t wait to see how many students it assists through the years.
Isaac Espinosa is a second-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.