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UC Irvine student government declares ‘campus emergency,’ commits $400,000 to combat food insecurity

UC Irvine student government declares ‘campus emergency,’ commits $400,000 to combat food insecurity
The Associated Students of UC Irvine Senate voted Thursday to declare food insecurity a campus emergency and commit $400,000 in funding to the FRESH Basic Needs Hub on campus, seen here. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The student government at UC Irvine declared food insecurity a campus emergency Thursday, pledging $400,000 in new, one-time funds to help hungry students.

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The money will come out of the Associated Students of UC Irvine Senate’s reserves — unspent student fee dollars banked from previous years — and go to the FRESH Basic Needs Hub, an on-campus resource center and food and toiletry pantry.

The action earmarks up to $80,000 for emergency meal swipes for a campus program, Zot Out Hunger, and sets aside as much as $188,000 for providing fresh pantry food at the Hub.

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Andrea Gutierrez, the director of the FRESH Basic Needs Hub, said the center has received about 20,000 visits — from 4,000 unique students on campus — in this academic year alone.

“For us, this is kind of something that needs to be done because Andrea doesn’t have enough food to feed all the students that want to use the FRESH Basic Needs Hub,” said Cassius Rutherford, chief of staff for student body President Thao “Annie” Le. “Students will go to the food pantry later in the week when they run out of food and the shelves will be empty.”

The remaining ASUCI funds will go toward hiring an on-site case manager for one year and additional student staff to help with distribution operations and the CalFresh food benefit program.

“Since the beginning of our food security efforts on campus in 2015, ASUCI has been at the forefront of the efforts in asking for more resources [and] being creative with their advocacy efforts to increase our capacity to support more students,” Gutierrez said. “This is not new. This has been a commitment of multiple generations of student government to our campus and the wellness of its community.”

According to the 2018 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey, almost 48% of UCI students lack consistent access to nutritious food.

About 27% of student respondents were considered to have “very low food security,” which the survey defines as having disrupted eating patterns or reduced food intake. The other 21% were categorized as “low food security,” meaning they eat regularly but typically have to rely on food that is low quality or lacks variety.

“At UCI, we understand the importance of these basic needs issues, and are committed to working with our students to address them. We provide services like those in our FRESH Basic Need Hub, which delivers healthy foods, support and access to opportunities for thousands of students. And we are dedicated to providing affordable on-campus housing opportunities for nearly half of our student population,” said Tom Vasich, UCI spokesperson.

The decision comes on the heels of other discussions about student welfare at the university, including an assembly committee meeting about student debt in May and a report on housing the student government commissioned in April.Le, the student body president, said she feels it is “wonderful” that the vote was unanimous and that she looks forward to seeing details of the state budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“In the meantime, we’re doing what we can to help out students,” she said.

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