Valley College’s Helping Hands Pantry offers free resources to those in need.
By Cassandra Nava, Staff Writer
In an initiative to create a hunger free campus, Valley College allows access to fresh fruits and vegetables to students, faculty and members of the community.
Every Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Valley’s Helping Hands Food Pantry, located in the Campus Center patio, is open in order to offer resources to students facing food insecurity. The Helping Hands Project is a volunteer-based program that offers support to students who are facing homelessness and in need of food. The produce and snacks in the pantry are not just for students and faculty, but for anyone in need.
“Hunger is a particularly prevalent issue on community college campuses,” according to a 2018 Temple University study displaying hunger levels amongst students at different universities. “The study found that 42 percent of community college students were food insecure. One of the biggest issues for students is affording healthy food, with 46 percent of community college students reporting an inability to pay for balanced meals.”
The produce, given by the local non-profit organization MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity), is chosen by Valley student volunteers who take an empty truck to the donation center and return to campus with food. Some of the produce offered at the pantry are lemons, peas, cabbage, garlic and apples. According to a student volunteer, almost all produce is organic.
Another way the pantry receives food is through donations. Acceptable donations are canned goods, granola bars or microwavable meals. There is a quota on the fresh fruits and vegetables, so each person is only allowed to take a fixed amount, in order to ensure others an opportunity to benefit from the same resources.
The pantry employs student volunteers in order to create a welcoming environment for other students who are in need. The volunteers are students who help with setting up food, taking identification and general cleanup.
“We want to let them [those who visit the pantry] know that it’s okay,” said Ruth Osorio, a student volunteer who takes identification numbers at the door. “We want that connection from student to student. We all have struggles, and we want to support everyone.”
The identification required depends if the person in need is a student, faculty member or a community member. For most pantry visitors, a state-issued identification number is accepted as well as an employee number from that person’s place of work. For students, their student ID number is required. According to the pantry, the information is never shared with anyone, but is necessary in order to count how many people need these resources.
According to student volunteer Bonita Barungi, the beginning of the semester starts off slow, with about 50 visitors each day. She said that as the semester goes on students learn about the pantry, and at the end of last semester there were at least 120 people frequenting each day.
Funding for the pantry is given by the state, and there are requirements for obtaining these funds. According to Senate Bill 85, community colleges that label themselves as a “hunger free campus” must provide an employee who can assist students with signing up for CalFresh and must have an on-campus food pantry. CalFresh is a federally funded nutrition program that assists those of low income to buy healthy foods, through the use of EBT cards.
“Our vision is to be a temporary bridge that allows students to successfully complete their educational goals and have access to resources,” states the Valley website. “Through support and commitment, HHP endeavors to be the first program on campus to tackle and reduce incidences of homelessness and food insecurities on campus.”
For more information regarding the pantry and CalFresh, students and faculty can visit the HHP office in room 1101 in the Administration and Career Advancement building.