While a student at Cal Poly Pomona, Alyssa Jane Christiansen (’11, sociology) occasionally slept in her car to avoid the cost of commuting to the mobile home in Upland she shared with her sister and their mother.
She ate a lot of ramen — and never once bought a meal on campus.
“I often skipped meals, ate less than I felt I should and went hungry because there was not enough money for food,” she said.
Instead of buying groceries, she put gasoline in her car or paid for a textbook.
Her life would have been different had the Poly Pantry existed during her time on campus. In an ideal marriage of person and job, Christiansen is the founding coordinator of the pantry, which opened last spring in the Bronco Student Center.
The pantry’s mission to provide food for students in need recently got more difficult after the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic prompted the closure of most campus facilities, including the Bronco Student Center where it is located. When Christiansen first learned about the closure, she started researching what other campuses with similar pantries and community food banks were doing in response to the call for social distancing.
“We looked at how to transition from a shopping model to a prepack-bag model,” she said. “But if we were to do what community pantries are doing, there would still be some risk because we would be inviting students to campus. Even if we were doing it by appointment, students would still be on campus waiting.”
The closure prompted the Poly Pantry to suspend its agreement with the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, but the pantry is still accepting monetary donations through the Cal Poly Pomona Philanthropic Foundation.
For now, Poly Pantry and the Broncos Care Program are referring students to community resources, food banks, school-district lunch programs and meal delivery services that are still open and available for those in need, she said.
Christiansen’s current duties have included teaming up with Judy Juarez Crawford (’12, sociology), care services coordinator for Broncos Care, to maintain a master list of housing, food, storage and financial resources and assist with the review of student applications for basic needs support. They also are helping students find medical resources and walking them through the process of filing for unemployment.
Food insecurity has become pervasive on college campuses across the country, and many students are reluctant to ask for help.
In recent years, the University of California and the California State University systems found that 4 in 10 students were not getting enough to eat or were worried about access to food. At Cal Poly Pomona, nearly 36 percent of students reported food insecurity, and nearly 15 percent reported having been homeless one or more times in the previous 12 months.
The university took its initial step to address food insecurity in 2016, when representatives from across the campus formed the food & housing security committee. The campus forged a partnership with Sowing Seeds for Life, a La Verne-based nonprofit organization, to create a monthly mobile food pantry program. The student government also passed a resolution calling for the creation of a permanent pantry.
Once the pantry reopens, Christiansen said she expects to see an increase in the number of students relying on it.
“Previously food insecurity was a social justice issue,” she said. “But now, it is a broader economic issue, with so many students losing jobs. We are anticipating having to scale the program up significantly at our re-opening.”
As for the pantry, the next steps will depend on how long the closure lasts. Because the pantry is less than year old, a stable source of food and basic supplies is needed, Christiansen said, adding that she will continue researching to see what other methods are possible if a longer-term closure would become necessary.
To give to the Poly Pantry, visit http://bit.ly/polypantrydonate.