To stay nourished, Glendale College students turn to Food for Thought Pantry

Guadalupe Arevalos has to leave his home in Compton by 5:30 a.m. to arrive in time for his first class at Glendale Community College.

During those early mornings the 19-year-old student doesn’t have time — or sometimes food — to make breakfast and pack a lunch for the long day ahead. His schedule consists of classes throughout the day and football practice in the evening.

He has found relief through the college’s Food for Thought Pantry, which is open to any currently-enrolled Glendale Community College student who completes a short form.

Located on the first floor of the San Rafael building is a small hallway leading to two rooms.

The smaller, closet-sized room is filled with canned beans, canned fruit, instant oatmeal, peanut butter, granola bars and Cup Noodles. A few shelves also have small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and feminine-hygiene products.

The larger room — formerly used by the board of trustees — has a refrigerator filled with passion-fruit tea and milk. This room is used by student workers, faculty and volunteers who help run the food pantry.

For nearly a year, the college has provided food for students after the student government heard there were students who were homeless and didn’t have food for their next meal. As a result, the student government formed a task force consisting of faculty members to help start a food pantry. The college’s Garfield campus also has a pantry.

Food is donated by the Rotary Club of Glendale, campus organizations, faculty and the student government.

About 150 students used the food pantry during the first semester after it opened this past September, said Ellen Oppenberg, task force outreach coordinator and learning disability specialist for the college.

“There’s a big need,” Oppenberg said. “We’ve now served over 400 [students], and we’ve only been in action for a year come September.”

The college couldn’t provide the number of homeless students on campus, Oppenberg said, because the college admission application doesn’t ask for that information. Unless the student notifies the campus, there is no way to find out, she added.

Oppenberg, along with her colleagues, looked at other colleges to see how they established food pantries. They learned they needed to create a point system to track the amount of food taken by students.

“We don’t have an endless supply of food,” Oppenberg said. “It’s grown so much in popularity, thankfully.”

Foods are assigned points — many usually are one point each — and students are allowed to take up to 10 points worth of goods each week. A student can use their 10 points during their first visit or they can use them throughout a week.

First-time visitors present their student ID and fill out an application asking questions about what foods they’d like to see the pantry provide.

It was Sevada Paria’s first time at the pantry this week. The 28-year-old filled out the form and was helped by Karine Mkrtchyan, 41, a student worker, and Jose Aquila, 19, a volunteer.

Aquila showed Paria the popular items students typically take — Cup Noodles and granola bars — and showed him items such as beans and lentils that could last him for a week’s worth of meals at home.

Paria moved to Glendale from Iran with his mother two years ago. They both enrolled at the college to learn English. He occasionally freelances as a photographer but doesn’t have a full-time job. He left the pantry with a heavy backpack filled with food. He used eight of his 10 points for the week.

“It’s a tough situation when you really can’t ask the question: Are you hungry?” said Dr. Armine Hacopian, president of Glendale Community College’s board of trustees.

Hacopian commended faculty, staff and students involved in helping spread the word about the food pantry during its first year.

“The bottom line is, if these students are healthy and nourished, they’re able to have a better focus on studies and [have a] healthier cycle of life,” Hacopian said. “These are all attributes that go along with proper nutrition.”

Despite its success, college officials said they realize the food pantry can’t supplant a student’s food-scarcity problem. So, they are looking at drafting a list of additional resources that can help students.

“We’re going to push harder now to have a resource list and say to students ‘we’ve noticed you’re coming quite frequently. Is there no other source of food you have?’ And we’ll make the call for them,” Oppenberg said.

College counselors are also compiling lists of students who may need extra help, she added, and they will be given $50 food vouchers redeemable at the college’s cafeteria.

A majority of students have been receptive to the help, Oppenberg said.

The college is now part of the College and University Food Bank Alliance, an organization of “campus-based programs focused on alleviating food insecurity, hunger and poverty in colleges across the United States,” according to its website. As of this year, there are 525 institutions registered with the program.

“It’s a true eye-opener the deeper we get into statistics,” Oppenberg said.

Arevalos said he isn’t embarrassed to say he’s used the food pantry, and he often encourages his friends on the football team to make use of the pantry and is thankful the school “has his back.”

When he’d bring home bottles of shampoo, his mother — knowing he didn’t have a job — would ask where he got it.

“I’d tell her that the school provided it, and it could help us by saving $5,” Guadalupe said. “Sometimes, we don’t have eggs to cook in the morning to make breakfast. This program has really helped me when I don’t have food at home.”

Twitter: @vegapriscella

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