Photos by Stephanie Perez.
Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) community members gathered on campus Wednesday morning to celebrate the grand opening of Associated Student Inc.’s (ASI) Beach Pantry.
Located at University Student Union (USU) room 302, the ASI Beach Pantry was created in response to student food insecurity testimonies, including former ASI Vice President Miriam Hernandez, who faced the struggle during her undergraduate studies.
“There were times where I needed to decide between a book and a meal,” Hernandez said. “I thought I was alone […] until I got to meet other students who had to deal with that same struggle.”
An email sent by Hernandez to ASI senators served as the singular catalyst for the development of the pantry. In her email, Hernandez asked them if they would work with her on her idea. With the senators on board, she teamed up with CSULB Dean of Students Jeff Klaus to fully realize her vision. At the conclusion of her term, she passed the torch to ASI Vice President Logan Vournas, who continued Hernandez’s work.
“I remember the first time seeing the pantry and seeing just the empty shelves, I could almost cry,” said Vournas. “One of the hardest parts for us was actually trying to find the space [in the student union].”
CSULB School of Social Work Assistant Professor, Rashida Crutchfield conducted a study that stated 23 percent of Cal State University (CSU) students reported food insecurity and one in 10 CSU students reported housing insecurity.
“I have had my experiences and own struggles, but [it was] because it is such an invisible issue; I had no idea [about] the extents of it,” said Vournas. “I didn’t know that in a room of 30 students, a fourth of us deal with food insecurity.”
ASI Recycling Specialist and CSULB Alumnus Eric Bryan also faced housing and food insecurity in his third year as a student.
“I didn’t know where I’d be sleeping, where I’d be eating or where I will be, and I was terrified,” said Bryan.
He said people helped him from a difficult situation and now it is time for him to give back by helping with the Beach Pantry. The ASI Recycling Center, located at 5800 East Atherton Street, is one of the pantry drop-off locations for donations. The other two locations are at the ASI Beach Pantry Office, located at USU-302, and the USU Information and Ticket Center.
Donations can include non-perishable food items, canned fruits and vegetables, dry goods and various hygienic necessities.
Vournas said many don’t want to utilize these services because it makes them feel weak and they don’t want to feel like they need help, but “the mission, not only the Pantry, but ASI” is to ensure students stay strong.
CSULB also offers $500 grants to students in true crisis for housing and other emergency needs. Other on-campus programs include a short-term housing program and meal assistance program with university dining.
“We owe so much first of all to students who were willing to tell their story, but also to our faculty member Rashida Crutchfield, who showed us that it isn’t just a student here, a student there,” said CSULB President Jane Close Conoley. “It’s a campus issue.”
The pantry is non-bureaucratic, which means there is no test to take food. Students can go to USU-302, fill out a form and take food, according to Close Conoley. There is currently no limit and students are allowed to take food for their family as well, if needed.
“If one of our students is struggling, all of our students are struggling, and we want to make sure that as a campus we support all of our students—whatever their needs are,” Vourans said.
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