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The Cougar Food Pantry

Chace Martin picks up some groceries and a snack at the Cougar Pantry. Photo by Michael Costa

The Cuesta College Food Pantry program is in its infancy, but is making a big impact on campus with students.  

The program, which started nearly two years ago, has been getting a steady stream of customers since it first opened in August 2018. The pantry is only open during the fall and spring semester (excluding summer). Since opening their doors to students, over 21,000 have visited from the San Luis Obispo campus and a little over 5,500 students on the North County campus.  The total between both campuses amounted to over 26,000 students using the program.  

The service allows students to take advantage of free nutrition. On average, the Cuesta College pantry receives 150 visits a day. Cuesta College students have quickly taken advantage of this program, and the numbers are only expected to increase as students become more aware.

 “Food insecurity can negatively impact a student’s academic performance and mental health,” said Anthony Guiterrez, faculty coordinator for the Student Life and Leadership department.  “It is important to address these issues and make sure our students are successful inside and outside of the classroom.” 

One of the major breakthroughs developing from this program is the positive relationship it has on both education and health. Guiterrez is confident that this program will continue to succeed with every student that signs in to take advantage of the facilities.  

There is much anticipation that this program will grow over time and with more exposure each semester, Guiterrez noticed an increase in students who benefit from the free food.  He believes that the Cougar Food Pantry is making a difference in the lives of Cuesta College students and sees it happening almost on a daily basis.

In order to fully understand the students that utilized the services and their needs, an online survey was conducted by Cuesta College in the Fall 2019 semester.  The survey was sent to 938 participants who used the food pantry during the 2018 academic calendar, and 176 responded. 

Below are a few key findings from the online questionnaire.  The survey was helpful in administering the needs of the students and moving forward with the program as it unfolds.   

  • Did the campus food pantry provide you with meals that you would have otherwise had to skip?  77% Yes
  • By using the campus food pantry, were you able to allocate funds toward other necessities such as rent, utilities, car maintenance, medicine, etc.? 74% Yes
  • By getting food from the campus food pantry, were you able to focus more of your time and energy on class-related activities?  89% Yes
  • Were you able to stay enrolled in classes because of the assistance you received from the campus food pantry? 51% Yes
The SLO campus food pantry provides a variety of snacks, canned goods and fresh vegetables for students in Room 5305. Photo by Michael Costa

The funding issued to the Cuesta College Food Pantry comes from Assembly 453, which was introduced and passed in 2017.  According to the legislation, $7.5 million has been granted to the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems to support initiatives to end hunger on college campuses. 

Cuesta College has received $18,000 from the Assembly 453 bill as well as funding from organizations including Hungry-Free Campus Support Allocation (SB 85), a grant from the City of San Luis Obispo, Student Equity Funds, ASCC (student government) and various Cuesta College faculty and staff donations to the Cuesta Foundation’s “Food Pantry” account.

All these affiliates plus more have helped to keep the doors open for almost two years.  

“The food pantry gave me the wonderful opportunity of having a job on campus that is flexible with my class schedule and always provides healthy snacks during my busy days,” said Dauphiene Parks, who has been working at the Cougar Food Pantry for three weeks. “Cuesta College students are dedicated to their education and sometimes it is difficult to make it to the store.” 

Parks is just one of the few hired employees who are gaining work experience while giving back to their community college.  She feels that a student’s busy schedule, and the little amount of income students actually have, contributes to the lack of proper nutrition and being able to afford to purchase good fruits and vegetables. 

“Being a student is a full-time job and the food pantry makes our lives easier,” Parks said.  “Studying on a full stomach is much better than an empty one.”  

More and more students are rushing to the pantry in between class time, taking advantage of the program to quickly shop for goods.  The shelves are stocked regularly with a variety of both canned goods and fresh vegetables. Timing is everything when it comes to shopping at the food pantry. Students are encouraged to drop into the food pantry everyday. It is open Monday through Thursday. 

 “The pantry is a great solution to the sometimes long breaks between meals,” said Chace Martin, a student at Cuesta College.  “I always stop by for a bite before a test or a long class.”  

Martin is not the only one using the services.  Sometimes you can dash in, and other times there could be a line out the door, with students waiting to rush between courses to grab a quick snack.  The pantry is a super convenient and easy way for students to go shopping with limited funds, without feeling embarrassed. 

The Cougar Food Pantry is open on the SLO campus in room 5305 Monday – Thursday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., and on the North County Campus in the Student Life and Leadership room N1005, Tuesday – Thursday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.  Students are allowed one or two items per visit, and visits are limited to one per day. The pantry does its best to keep the shelves stocked, and assures that all the students who enter have an opportunity to take advantage of what’s on the shelves.

“I think it has been very helpful,” said Tim McCurry, a part-time student and employee at the Cougar Pantry.  “Students have been praising the program.”  

A student ID number is all that is needed to shop at for fresh fruit and vegetables, granola bars, oatmeal, tuna, canned beans, quinoa and more at the Cougar Food Pantry. 

Currently, the Cougar Food Pantry is still open under normal operating hours.  In case of closure students are encouraged to check http://slofoodbank.org/food-locator/ for updates on county food resource availability or call 1-805-238-4664.


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