Offerings in the Everytable Smart Refrigerator now installed at SMC’s new campus. Photo by Amy Williams

A recent survey of California Community Colleges found that approximately 50% of students are considered “food insecure,” meaning they are unable to access or afford adequate food. Approximately 15,000 Santa Monica College students fall into this category.

Food pantries on campus are supplied by such local organizations as Food Forward, which rescues surplus produce and donates it to those in need. And beginning today, they’ll also receive healthy prepared meals, provided by Everytable, a social business enterprise that opened the SmartFridge Lounge at SMC’s Center for Media and Design on Tuesday.

The company’s mission is to provide healthy, affordable food to every table in the country, with no one left out. The unique aspect to this partnership? At SMC, the Lounge trades food for rent: more than 300 meals per week will be donated by Everytable to food insecure SMC students through various food pantries elsewhere on campus.

Everytable originated as a non-profit called Feast in 2013 (and later, Groceryships), helping South L.A. families make healthy choices by providing nutrition education, cooking classes, free produce and support groups. But participants juggling large families and multiple jobs said they needed food on the go, so founders Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader, and partner David Foster, a former private equity professional, evolved Everytable into a technology-assisted, healthy, prepared-meal distribution operation, adjusting the cost of meals to the economy of the areas in which they’re sold.

“We’ve restructured the standard restaurant model with a single kitchen that supports all of our 10 stores and our many smart refrigerators, like those you’re seeing here,” Polk said at the Grand Opening. “Instead of being staffed by people like a restaurant, we have these branded Everytable Smart Refrigerators, stocked with freshly made salads, wraps, grain bowls, hot plates, snacks, smoothies, baked goods and coming soon, sandwiches.

“It’s like a little market, activated by a credit card, so whenever you’re hungry you swipe the card, go shopping at the market, grab whatever you want, and pay for it. There’s technology that charges you for whatever you take out, like a hotel mini-bar but also software behind it that lets us know what’s in the fridge at all times so we know what to stock on any given day.”

And, Polk says, at SMC, “We’re selling the meals at a lower price point, which is something we do when we know affordability is an issue. If you buy at an Everytable in downtown LA or Brentwood, a kale or Caesar salad might cost $7.95, but here it will be significantly cheaper, maybe $5 or $6. What’s revolutionary is that our lease payment is not cash; it’s meals donated to students who are food insecure and might not know where their next meal is coming from.”

At outdoor canopied booths, amid balloons, SMC cheerleaders, a KCRW DJ and tables and chairs set up in the CMD courtyard, a crowd of students, faculty, staff, administration officials and members of the general public sampled some of the products available in Everytable’s refrigerators, including smoothies, Mediterranean grain bowls, chicken salad, vegan, gluten-free and conventional cookies, plus bottled coffee, sweetened with monkfruit instead of sugar.

Asked what his hopes for SMC’s Everytable Lounge are, Polk said, “I expect us to be here ten years from now, and by then I hope we’ll also be selling coffee and espresso in this space. Although we closed the kiosk at the Santa Monica Promenade food hall, we have spaces in Crenshaw, South L.A, Watts, Downtown, Brentwood, and coming soon Hollywood, Torrance, probably Santa Ana, Inglewood and Santa Barbara. It takes a lot of work but it’s finally beginning to sing.”

SMC will launch a new centralized food pantry later in the Spring led by students and staff; “The Bodega” will offer free fresh produce gleaned from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, prepared meals from Everytable, as well as clothing and hygiene products. Located on the first floor of the Cayton Building, adjacent to the campus cafeteria, it will also have community partners co-locating to address issues such as homelessness.

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