Some of the strongest students are those who win battles we know nothing about. Judy Juarez Crawford (’12, sociology) wants to change that.
Crawford is the care services coordinator at Cal Poly Pomona, overseeing the Broncos Care Basic Needs Program that supports students experiencing food insecurity and housing displacement.
When she was an undergraduate student, Crawford was involved with Hermanas Unidas and RAMP (Reading, Advising & Mentoring Program). She recalls that these communities shared food with their members and her involvement did not bring the issues of food insecurity to light.
“I had friends who would fall asleep in the cultural centers after a late-night study session,” says Crawford. “I didn’t realize people around me were struggling with their basic needs, and it goes to show that unless you’re going through it yourself, you may have no idea.”
As the care services coordinator, Crawford reassures students facing these types of struggles that they are not alone.
In January 2018, the CSU Study of Student Basic Needs found that 41.6 percent of CSU students reported food insecurity and 10.9 percent of students reported being homeless in the last 12 months. As a result, SB 85 dispersed “Hunger-Free Campus Designation” funding to each CSU campus, including Cal Poly Pomona, to implement the Basic Needs Initiative.
Crawford began in fall 2018 to connect students to the resources necessary to pursue their degree.
The initiative encourages a holistic approach, looking at the whole student and considering how one factor affects others. This holistic approach to student success creates the need for support inside and outside the classroom.
Crawford remembers the impact of holistic care when she was a student at Cal Poly Pomona.
“It’s from Maria Ruiz, my EOP counselor that I received a lot of holistic care and I felt the difference as a student,” she says. “I think it’s really influenced how I work with students.”
In her coordinator role, Crawford meets with students personally to create individualized action plans. By looking at the entirety of their situation, she can identify other concerns.
“If struggling with food impacts their mental health, physical health, stress or relationships, I can’t solely look at just one issue without looking at the others. You have to work on everything to move forward.”
Crawford sees the value in her work when students who endure tough times grow their confidence because they learn about the different resources offered on campus.
Here’s a snapshot of those resources:
A mobile food pantry began in fall 2017 and provided groceries and toiletries to about 400 students each month. In late April 2019, the university and ASI collaborated to introduce Poly Pantry, a permanent food pantry located in the BSC, to serve students with a tailored experience.
Designed to help students who are dealing with an unforeseen crisis, a new emergency grant program allows students to apply for a one-time $500 grant, funded by the CSU Chancellor’s office, donors and community partners. Crawford follows up with the student to work toward long-term assistance and identify other resources on campus.
CPP has also collaborated with nonprofit Swipe out Hunger to introduce a new meal assistance program. Food insecure students can apply to receive an allotted number of meal swipes or points to use at any dining facility on campus. Other students can also donate extra meal swipes or unused points.
“I want to establish permanent resources by embedding basic needs resources into existing campus systems,” Crawford says. “Students need a little bit of guidance because they are doing the heavy lifting. Students tell me they feel like they have a team to assist them.”
Crawford is also raising awareness of the CalFresh program, which is California’s USDA-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Eligible students can spend CalFresh dollars to stretch a tight budget and incorporate healthy foods into their diet. Crawford and her student assistants help students complete their applications, and some recipients can receive up to $200 per month.
The campus’ holistic approach means that faculty and staff are also partners in the Basic Needs Initiative. Faculty and staff members can notify Crawford when they notice a change in a student’s behavior.
“Even though the school has grown in many ways since I was a student, the tight-knit community remains,” Crawford says. “Our staff will stop what they’re doing to support the student because they care about the students they work with.”
Her guiding principle in her work is that students should not have to sacrifice their basic needs to achieve an education. Crawford wants to help students who face the pressures of choosing between paying for textbooks or paying for food or housing.
“The reason why I do what I do is because I believe education makes a difference,” Crawford says. “I see it more when I work with students who are food insecure or displaced. Having someone say, ‘Hey, I’m here with you, and I’m going to help you work this out,’ is important, and people need more of that.
“I come from a low-income immigrant family, and they sacrificed a lot to give me an education,” she says. “Now, I’m able to support my family. Someday when I have a family of my own, I will better be able to guide them through college so that they have more resources so they can go on to be successful. Higher education gives so much power to the individual to move through a socio-economic level.”
Cal Poly Pomona ranks No. 3 in the nation among universities that help low-income students find financial success after graduation, according to the “2018 Social Mobility Index.”
“I want students to know that they don’t have to struggle alone. It is not healthy for a college student to include instant noodles in their daily diets, and it shouldn’t be a part of the college experience,” Crawford says.
Crawford testifies to the strength and resilience she sees in CPP students.
“Sometimes when students come in you can see their head hanging low, and they feel defeated with a sense of hopelessness,” she says. “With the resources we can introduce, the students leave in disbelief and with a more positive outlook of the future.”