On a typical day, hundreds of Santa Monica College students will go hungry for reasons as simple as being unable to afford a meal. But this week is far from typical as COVID-19 has shut down retailers and restaurants where some of the local students work and dine, which means many more Corsairs have the potential to go hungry in the coming weeks.
Nationally, about one-quarter of community college students suffer from some degree of food insecurity, or a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active and healthy life, according to a recent report from Students Against Hunger.
While there are varying degrees of food insecurity, Santa Monica College Foundation President Lizzy Moore said, “Simply put, students will forego their nutritional nourishment to offset the material hardship that they’re facing, especially when they’re in school. Because, when students are having to decide between: ‘Do I pay rent?’ or ‘Do I buy a chicken breast?’ Most will choose to pay rent and miss out on not just one meal but multiple.”
As a former homeless student, Josh Elizondo is familiar with having to make a similar choice. He said Tuesday, “I wasn’t worried about purchasing food or purchasing certain things. I was worried about where I am going to be for the night, and there were a lot more things on my mind than food.”
During some school days, SMC students have the ability to enjoy a free lunch voucher program sponsored by the college’s Associated Students, ten food closets and the first-ever Everytable SmartFridge Lounge, which opened in February as a result of a partnership between Everytable and the Santa Monica College Foundation.
“Sometimes these meals would be the only meal I had for the day last year,” Elizondo said as he detailed how many other students like himself rely on the free meals since they allow students to save money and avoid having to pay for costly meals later when they’re off-campus. “So with this happening, even though I’m in a better place financially in my life, there was still a concern of ‘Where am I going to get that meal now?’ that came up in my head.”
And he wasn’t alone, according to Moore, who said she received emails from students who hadn’t eaten in a 48-hour period.
“This is an equity issue,” Moore said, so she and her peers immediately went to work trying to determine the best ways to meet students’ needs.
Foundation members called on the local community to help raise $2 million so they could help feed 3,000 students seven meals a week for the next three months.
Launched last Friday, the SMC Foundation’s Meal Project has already begun delivering meals to food insecure students across the Westside.
Whether it’s to disabled students who are unable to find access to transportation, Dreamers who are ineligible for state benefits or the hundreds of other Corsairs who face the possibility of skipping a meal this week, “We’re thinking about them,” and hope the Santa Monica College Foundation Meal Project will be able to suit their needs, Moore said.
Currently, the program, which is the result of another partnership with Everytable, is serving about 90 students, but Moore said the Santa Monica College Foundation Meal Project hopes to ramp up to 3,000 students soon.
An estimated 54% of SMC students were food insecure prior to COVID-19, “ so we know that we will barely scratch the surface of the problem,” Moore said. “We considered the need to be great before and we know it will be much greater now.”
Everytable CEO Sam Polk agreed with Moore’s sentiments this week, when he shared that every subscription to Everytable using the promotion code, “SMCFRIEND”, will result in the donation of two meals to Santa Monica College students who are struggling with food insecurity.
“I encourage everybody to donate to the SMC Foundation or any other hunger relief organizations that are trying to take care of seniors or students who can’t get access to their usual source of meals because a pandemic is hard for everybody,” Polk said, “but for those who are having to endure it without access to food, it’s incredibly terrifying.”
Without the option to receive food on-campus, Elizondo added, “It’s kind of like fend for yourself now that we’re in remote learning, so I think it’s especially important for the community to come together at a time like this and make sure the students who are vulnerable to food insecurity have the resources they need.”
To find more information on the Santa Monica College Foundation Meal Project, visit Santamonicacollegefoundation.org/mealproject.php.