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Food Basket Program Serves Hungry Students

On a hot Tuesday in May, Stacy and her youngest daughter, Abby, drove up to the 900 Building on the Napa Valley College campus, following the signs into the lane for the college’s Food Basket program. 

“We come once a month,” Stacy, an anthropology student at the college, said. “It usually helps my three children and me through the last two weeks of the month.”

That is especially true, Stacy said, since the pandemic had closed schools in March. “They are home all the time now, so we go through a lot more food,” she said.  

Stacy is one of the hundreds of NVC students who have visited the college’s Food Basket site this year, for food and other groceries that they otherwise would go without. According to Affordable Colleges Online, a 2017 study of more than 30,000 college students found that approximately half of 2-year college students were suffering from some kind of food insecurity during their time at college. 

“I’ve been a student, too and you can’t learn if you’re hungry all the time or wondering where your next meal will come from,” said Office of Student Life manager Ben Quesada, who started Food Basket in 2017. The service is available to students every semester but has seen a tenfold increase in weekly visits since the campus was closed in March due to the coronavirus.

The usage has been slowly creeping up since then and jumped sharply in May. “We served 103 students the third week of May,” Quesada said, attributing the sharp increase to job losses in the hospitality industry, people running through their cash reserves and home food stock running low. Two-thirds of the increase in demand is attributable to first-time users.

To answer that demand, Quesada moved the operation on a temporary basis to a building at the front of campus, in the culinary classrooms area, to create the drive-through service. A classroom is filled with tables of shelf-stable food such as cereals, peanut butter, soups and more, and the walk-in refrigerator houses milk, eggs, tortillas, cheese and other perishables. Usually, students are able to choose their own foods, but for efficiency and safety, groceries are prechosen by staff during the pandemic. 

On this sizzling day, employee Michael Granados is helping students use their mobile device to scan a QR code, which opens a survey and order form for the student to complete. Granados verifies the student is enrolled and brings two to three bags of groceries to the student’s car. 

For Granados, working at the Food Basket since summer 2019 has provided an education beyond his associate degree in political science, which he earned last year.

“I’ve learned a lot about community organizing and making connections with other programs and vendors, like Grocery Outlet. We’ve slowly been building those ties,” he said. “We’ve been working on our social media presence, so more people will hear about us.” 

According to Quesada, food assistance programs are the norm in California community colleges. The Hunger Free Campuses program offers funding to not only buy food, but to build programs that support the Cal Fresh program, with hot meals and EBT cards that students can use at a campus restaurant at some sites. Quesada says he supports the direct approach to providing food for food-insecure students, as opposed to offering money for them to buy groceries.

“My mom always told me, ‘If you have the ability to help someone, you should do it. But do it in a smart way,’” Quesada said. “For me, this program is part of a student’s overall financial aid package.”

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To Use Food Basket during pandemic:

  • Hours are Monday thru Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through summer. 
  • No appointment necessary. Bring student ID or ID number.
  • Drive to the 900 Building (by the front flagpoles) and follow the drive-through signs. 
  • Use your mobile device to scan a QR code, where you will place your order and complete a short survey 
  • Staff will bag your groceries and deliver them to your car.
  • Follow Food Basket on Facebook and Instagram
  • Questions? Call (707) 256-7347 

Food Basket 4-1-1

Who can use it?

  • Any student enrolled in the current semester can visit once every 30 days
  • NEW! Students who were enrolled in spring 2020 semester or have already enrolled for fall 2020 semester can use Food Basket during the summer 2020 semester.
  • Students can visit both Food Basket and the CANV Food Bank
  • Using Food Basket does NOT affect your FAFSA application

What food is included?

  • Both perishables, like dairy, meat and produce, and shelf-stable foods such as pasta, canned goods and drinks
  • Students get 2-3 bags of groceries per visit, worth roughly $150
  • Provided by CANV Food Bank and local purchases

Who supports it?

  • Annual budget of about $25,000, funded by a grant from California Hunger Free Campuses; a CalFresh grant through UC Chico; private donations; and food donations from CANV Food Bank.
  • Managed by Ben Quesada, manager of the Office of Student Life. Staffed by Michael Granados (clerk) and Kyler Thompson (CalFresh application support)

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