ATC Student Hunger Webinar: Insightful and Inspiring

Growing awareness of the pervasive issue of college student hunger is a much needed first step toward solutions. A ground swell of student activism and responsive advocates has led to both programmatic and legislative solutions addressing some of the barriers college students face. We are excited to see so many great projects and difficult discussions underway and know that our work on ending college student hunger is nowhere from over. As more and more first generation and low-income students access a college education we need to meet their needs in new and different ways. On November 14th, the Alliance to Transform CalFresh hosted a webinar to highlight the fantastic ground work laid by student advocates, as well as some of the great community partnerships underway and  a few important legislative updates on student hunger.

The webinar began with a legislative update from Jessica Bartholow, who first discussed AB1930 (Skinner, 2014) which clarified the CalFresh student rules and identifies and expands state and federal exemptions that would allow students to receive CalFresh.  Jessica then reviewed AB1747 (Weber, 2016) a bill that was born out of series of hearings illuminating hunger on college campuses. The bill requires Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) applications for colleges in RMP participating counties and codifies the opportunity for colleges and universities to participate in RMP. It also establishes a structure to fund for college/food bank partnerships that has not yet determined a funding source.

Dr. Sabrina Sanders gave a summary of the issue of hunger and the work the California State University system in doing to address hunger on their 23 campuses. Doctor Sanders explained that the CSU system has over 470,000 students; more than half are students are color, 1/3 are the first in their family for college and 54% get the Pell Grant. The CSU Chancellor’s Office funded a hunger and food insecurity study, the preliminary findings showed that 1 in 5 students were experiencing food insecurity and many were experiencing a lack of proper housing. The study has been funded for another year to better understand the depth of the issue and better guide CSU policy. She finished by highlighting some of the new anti-hunger programs being rolled out at campuses across the state.

Ruben Canedo reviewed the UC Student Food Access and Security Study—using the USDA Food Insecurity Module—researchers assessed the food insecurity levels of UC students. Ruben shared the breakdown of students that experience hunger (42%) by the race, academic level and history of food insecurity and also echoed the issues related to housing insecurity. The conversation illuminated the experience of food insecurity increasing as they enter and stay in school and much of that is connected with unmanageable housing cost crisis that we see across the state. Ruben talked about the many programs that all 10 UC campuses are collectively working on to address the student hunger issue in the state and ending with asking the greater community to become involved in this effort.

Amanda Schultz Brochu from the San Diego Hunger Coalition joined us to share the San Diego CalFresh Task Force process and lessons learned in addressing student hunger in San Diego County. She discussed ways to leverage resources on both sides of the table to ensure students access their CalFresh benefits and highlighted emerging projects that were borne out of the group’s initial work. Amy Dierlam of River City Food Bank in Sacramento share her organizations work with Sacramento State. The outreach team at River City Food Bank trained health educators to do CalFresh presentations to programs that likely serve potential CalFresh eligible students; they held over 20 enrollment workshops and have involved student volunteers. They are now branching out to local community colleges in the greater Sacramento area.

Gustavo Herrera from Young Invincibles shared the group’s platform of lifting up the ‘young adult voice’ to speak to the nation’s political process across three major issues areas: high education, economic security, and healthcare. He spoke to the importance of engaging young people in the political process. Gustavo explain that the group had been holding listening session across the nation and what they found was many students were struggling with housing and food, these anecdotal stories lead to discussions that ushered AB 1747. We look forward to seeing more leadership from the Young Invincibles in the years to come!

The Alliance would like to extend as special thanks to our presenters: Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Dr. Sabrina K. Sanders from CSU Chancellor Office, Ruben E. Canedo from UC Student Hunger Initiatives, Amanda Schultz Brochu of San Diego Hunger Coalition, Amy Dierlam of River City Food Bank, and Gustavo Herrera from Young Invincibles.