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UC Irvine Opens 1,800-Square-Foot Food Pantry For Students Struggling With Food Insecurity

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UC Irvine has opened the largest food bank in the University of California school system to combat food insecurity for its students. The FRESH Basic Needs Hub is an 1,800-square-foot food bank on the Irvine campus, meant to provide food and resources to students with low access to nutritious food. According to a survey conducted by the UC Global Food Initiative, 19% of students in the UC system have experienced “very low” food security, a.k.a. experiencing "reduced food intake at times due to limited resources."

The FRESH Basic Needs Hub will offer canned foods, fresh produce, hygienic products, a small kitchenette, and gathering areas for students, according to the L.A. Times. The Hub offers more services than just the food pantry; emergency meal swipes, EBT application assistance, and workshops on basic life skills will also be available.

UC Irvine first opened a food pantry in 2015 with $75,000 in funding from UC President Janet Napolitano. After the UC Global Food Initiative survey was released, she earmarked an extra $150,000 per UC campus to address student malnutrition, according to the L.A. Times. UC Irvine expanded the funding themselves as well by implementing an extra $3 fee per student per quarter, which adds another $150,000 per year to use on the food bank.

Andrea Gutierrez, the campus basic needs' coordinator, told the Times that the problem isn't just the 19% of students who miss meals due to lack of resources—it's also the 44% of UC Irvine students who lack access to nutritious food. This is the segment of students who regularly rely on fast food and ramen due to lack of funds for more healthy options. “A student should not eat Top Ramen and be malnourished. We can no longer accept that as reality," she said.

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Sometimes a barrier to nutrition is education and lack of knowledge on how to prepare healthy meals. Culinary Education Director Jessica Van Roo provided some cooking demonstrations at the grand opening of the FRESH hub, according to Food & Wine, and the food pantry will have cookbooks available for use. "If you don't know how to make food, we can show you," she said.

Access to food has a direct correlation with students' performance in school, so it's more than an economic issue—it's a matter of educational equality. Guillermo Paez, a sociology student, told the Times about his own experiences with food insecurity on campus. At one point, he lost his meal plan after he couldn't afford to pay a school bill. "He lived on such meager fare as carrots and peanut butter, and his grades plunged," said the Times, "because he could not concentrate."

A comprehensive, 50-state survey on food insecurity at U.S. college campuses does not exist, but several other cities and states have implemented similar studies. The Wisconsin HOPE Lab published "Hungry and Homeless in College" this year, which amassed data from 70 community colleges across 24 states. "Hunger on Campus", a study from multiple homelessness and hunger research groups, collected data from 24 community colleges and four-year colleges across 12 states. Both studies demonstrate a high prevalence of food insecurity, with percentages ranging between 20-50% of students expressing food insecurity at least once over the course of 30 days.