Choices include a variety of canned foods, noodles, beans, and peanut butter. Shampoo and toothpaste are also available.
The program keeps track of how often students are using the service, with the goal of helping them to meet their nutritional needs without having to rely on the pantry. It typically serves about two to four students a day.
“There are so many different factors that cause students to skip meals,” said Theresa Fagouri, a health educator who oversees the program. “What we try to do is help them and figure out what’s going on. We want to get to the question ‘Why are you going hungry?’”
It could be that a student needs a job, has problems with student loans or other issues that make it difficult to pay for tuition, books and living expenses.
The pantry is located in the university’s PULSE Peer Education program office on campus, in the same building as the Health and Counseling Services center, which collaborates with the PULSE program on student health needs.
PULSE stands for Peers Understanding Listening Supporting and Educating and promotes healthy lifestyle choices in various areas – including mental and physical health, financial and time management, and drug and alcohol abuse.
The Food Pantry was begun last spring as a pilot program after faculty and staff noticed an increased number of students going without basic food and supplies. It became permanent this fall, supported by private donations through Cal Poly’s Hunger Fund.
Cal Poly is the most expensive of the 23 Cal State University institutions with in-state fees costing $8,919 this academic year and out-of-state fees at $20,079.
The Food Pantry program offers confidentiality to students because of the embarrassment it may bring if others knew that they were struggling to make ends meet – and because of the stigma surrounding hunger issues.
“I think college students might hint at it, but never outright say, ‘I don’t have enough money to buy groceries,’” said Ashley Jones, a June graduate of Cal Poly who works on campus through AmeriCorps.
Cal Poly nutrition major Samantha Guittard said she isn’t involved with the pantry program though she’s heard about it – and supports its mission.
“I think it’s a wonderful initiative and great for students and the community,” Guittard said. “As an aspiring registered dietitian, it is my hope that resources can be made known and available to those who need help supporting their nutritional status.”