A long line of students snakes its way throughout the Santa Monica College campus every Wednesday around 2 p.m. Pupils of all ages have dark bags etched beneath their eyes, the toll of studying, midterms, and just trying to be a functional student making its mark on their well-being.
With the balancing act of working to pay exorbitant rent amounts, trying to keep an active social life, and keeping grades up to transfer or get a degree, eating something healthy might fall to the wayside.
These students in line are looking for any kind of relief, and at the end of this line, they’ve found it; a small canopy filled with volunteers stuff fresh fruits and vegetables into bags and boxes that the students bring.
Students say the aid can feed them for weeks and those who happen to be out of work find the help particularly useful.
It’s just another Wednesday at the Santa Monica College (SMC) Corsair Market.
The Corsair Market is a weekly, majority student-run farmers market at the campus. Staff started the program after the success of SMC’s twice-a-year Students Feeding Students program.
“One of the counselors had the idea of, ‘Why don’t we do this every week?’ They thought, ‘We don’t need healthy food twice a year, we need this as often as we can,’” Ferris Kawar, SMC’s Sustainability Project Manager said.
Working in tandem with the Westside Food Bank and Food Forward (a food waste prevention nonprofit), student and school staff volunteers sift through leftover fruits and vegetables from the morning’s Santa Monica Wednesday Farmers Market and buy leftover food from the food bank, bringing what would’ve been wasted produce back to students at SMC.
“We’ve identified that students are most food insecure in environments where they can’t always access healthy food,” Natalie Flores, garden manager of the school’s Organic Learning Garden said. As the garden manager, Flores teaches students the “lost art” of cultivating their own produce for self-sufficiency. Additionally, she volunteers at the Corsair Market.
Flores says the goal of the program is to provide students with nutritious food options as well as to provide “healing” and “a community” to students who may be attending the college with less than modest means.
According to Flores, around one in five students at SMC are food insecure, meaning they don’t have consistent means of accessing food, particularly food that’s nutritious.
“If you’re a student and you have five bucks, you’re not going to buy a head of lettuce,” Flores said. “You’re going to buy a burger and whatever that can fill you up for cheap.”
Since its inception nearly two years ago, Flores says the Corsair Market has consistently fed around 170-200 students per week, giving away about 1,500 – 2,200 pounds of produce weekly as well.
One student who has benefitted from the offerings of this program is Natalie Ramos.
Moving from the valley, Ramos came to Santa Monica College to accompany her sister and finish her education. However, the transition to a new, more expensive city and college caused struggle.
Ramos shares a room with her sister in a house filled with roommates, two people per room to make rent more affordable. She’s a full-time student at SMC that works anywhere from 25-30 hours a week for minimum wage, living paycheck to paycheck.
Financial aid helps some, Ramos says, but doesn’t provide enough money to pay bills, purchase living necessities, and, as a vegan, always procure healthy food options that fit in line with what she can eat.
That’s where Corsair Market comes in.
“Financially, it’s (Corsair Market) been so helpful,” Ramos said in a phone call. “Groceries are expensive, especially with organic produce, vegan options. With the market, I can come home and fill my fridge, even share with my roommates when I can.”
Ramos now has one less thing to worry about, she says, a godsend for the struggling student. She’s since become a volunteer herself, handing out food beneath the Corsair Market canopy, giving back her time to the program that provided for her in a time of need.
“The smile on people’s faces when you fill their bags with produce is so positive,” Ramos said. “This has been so hopeful and such an amazing opportunity, it’s fulfilling.”
The Corsair Market open for all SMC students and takes place at SMC in front of the Organic Learning Garden every Wednesday from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. during regular Fall and Spring semesters.