Food insecurity is an issue plaguing college students throughout the state.
According to a survey conducted by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in 2019, “a combined 52 percent of students said they either couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals or worried whether their food would run out before having money to buy more.”
Some members of Delta College’s community are all too familiar with the effects of hunger.
Student Kelleigh Sheridan said she struggled to put food on her children’s plate during their youth.
“There were many times in which I did not eat dinner, but fed my children because there was not enough food,” Sheridan said.
During this period in her life, Sheridan utilized the Emergency Food Bank in Stockton. She received goods such as pasta, granola, yogurt, and vegetables.
“That was a long time ago, when my wages did not cover enough to make it to the next paycheck,” she said.
There is a stigma associated with using food banks that often prevents people from seeking assistance.
“My children asked me not to go to the food bank anymore because one of their friends might see me,” Sheridan said. “They liked to videotape food recipients to spur others to donate.”
Sheridan said she knew she had to make a change in her life as she did not want to continue relying on the food bank, so she decided to go back to school in hopes of finding a better job.
When Sheridan began attending Delta, she befriended several special needs students dealing with food insecurity.
She said she saw firsthand how underserved the special needs population is.
“They’re very nice people and they interact with the student body quite well, but they often don’t take enough units to be able to use the Student Food Pantry,” Sheridan said.
A recent study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that “households with children who have special needs are 24 percent likelier to be food insecure than similar households whose children don’t have special needs.”
Sheridan said she couldn’t just turn a blind eye to the special needs population.
She, along with a fellow classmate, decided to go to a local grocery store and buy items to prepare sandwiches for the hungry students. They also purchased cans of soup and fruit to give to them.
“Many of those students have a guardian or parent who their Social Security benefits go to,” Sheridan said. “They don’t always have money to buy things and when they do, it’s very little.”
Another student who aims to help others dealing with hunger is Salvador Rivera.
In his first semester at Delta, Rivera saw the need for a student food pantry on campus and he, along with members of the Associated Students of Delta College (ASDC), advocated for one to open.
He has been working for the Student Food Pantry since it opened in March 2019.
“Growing up, I was homeless for a while so I dealt with housing insecurities and food insecurities,” Rivera said. “It’s really nice to get to see people come in who could be having a rough time, and here I am ready to help.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Rivera and other volunteers continue to work to ensure students don’t go hungry.
This semester, the Student Food Pantry plans to distribute food in a drive-thru format twice a month.
The next drive-thru food distribution will take place on Oct. 28 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the S1 parking lot.
In order to access the Student Food Pantry, students must complete a one-time application at least a week prior to the distribution date. More information can be found at deltacollege.edu/events.
At the last distribution held on Oct. 7, Student Food Pantry worker Valerie Valera said an estimated 200 students came to collect groceries.
“This semester, we’ve averaged between 120 to 150 students,” she said. “Today was our biggest turnout.”
Valera said a lot of familiar faces come to each distribution, though the Student Food Pantry uses a variety of outreach strategies such as emailing and social media to inform those who are not aware of their services.
The Student Food Pantry staff often establish close relationships with their regular clientele, Valera said.
“We’ll get to hear about their lives and what they’re going through,” she said. “I’ve experienced food insecurity so being able to help those who are in the same position I was in makes me feel good.”
In order for Valera and the Student Food Pantry to continue helping those in need, donations from the community are essential.
“We’re running low on supplies,” she said. “Donations will allow us to keep hosting food drives while the campus is closed.”
Those who are interested in donating food can drop off nonperishable items at the Student Activities Center or visit the Student Food Pantry’s website at deltacollege.edu/student-life/office-student-activities/student-food-pantry to access their Amazon Wish List. Groceries purchased through the wish list will be shipped directly to the pantry.