By Kadie Gurley
According to Cambridge University Press, approximately 11.5% of individuals, which is equivalent to about “37.2 million people in the U.S., are living with food insecurity”, which the United States Department of Agriculture defines as lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life. They also mentioned that these elevated rates of food insecurity indicate that a large proportion of undergraduate students are in need of additional campus-based or student resources. The Basic Needs office is seeking to change that narrative positively and bring a sense of community to campus with their resources.
Dr. Kenneth Kelly, Director of the Basic Needs program, shared how the program began and what kind of resources it offers for students. “In 2015, this program started as the Student Emergency Intervention primarily for students with food and housing insecurity or had a crisis that they needed resources with like emergency grants,” Kelly stated. He continued, “A few years went by, the chancellor’s office began to call it the Basic Needs Initiative. From that, we became Basic Needs and now are a department.”
Basic Needs works along with CalFresh to help students with applications. Also, they have off campus resources like case managers that work with them directly. One of the programs that the office provides is for food insecurity. The ASI Beach Pantry located on the first floor of the USU near the North lawn is across from the CalFresh office which was done strategically so that students that have food insecurity coming out of the pantry can see and access it easily.
The department's primary focus is to assist along with serving students who face barriers like food insecurity, emergency crisis, homelessness, and other student demands. Students are taking advantage of the resources available from Basic Needs. Over 2,000 applications were submitted within the past year alone. This beats their previous record which was 700 applications. Kelly mentioned that the department is aware that there is a need especially due to the global pandemic. “Covid helped us in a sense,” Kelly laughed. “It really did because we could already help people in person and now, we realize we could do this without being in person and we can serve a lot more students. Our new cycle started in October and since Oct. 1st, we have had over 700 applicants,” he stated.
In addition to serving students in the pantry, housing, and providing emergency grants, Basic Needs brings community within the students. They strive to get students involved, such as giving back to other students in need. Feed A Need is one of the campaigns that they initiated in 2015. “Other food options are we provide meals for students in the resident halls,” Kelly shared. He continued, “We have campaigns each third week of a semester in which students can donate meals to other students. We have provided over 15,000 meals.”
LBSU’s Beach Bites app is another way that students can access food. It is a mobile app for students and alerts them when accessible catered food from on-campus events or meetings is available.
Besides helping students with food insecurity, Basic Needs offers other resources. Kelsey Charles, a student and also a USU Administrative Assistant, shared what the pantry in particular offers. “We offer food, perishable and non-perishable goods, fruits, vegetables, and baby items including diapers,” Charles said. In addition, students can donate items to the pantry, which is especially helpful with the increase of applications. The pantry also works with student athletes. Kelly stated, “Sometimes, when student athletes come back from their away games, they bring back toiletries from the hotels and donate it.”
There is no doubt that the Basic Needs program initiates the significance of community at LBSU. Charles shared, “I think the resources provided by Basic Needs builds a community on campus.” She continued, “I have a lot of students who come in and tell me that they are so grateful for everything in what we provide.” Dr. Kelly mentioned that he has worked in many roles for over 20 years, but this has been his favorite job. “This is not a job, it is a calling,” Kelly stated.
Students looking into applying, donating or seeking information about Basic Needs can visit the CSULB website, social media, and Zoom via appointment. Also, CalFresh will be hosting nutrition and cooking workshops throughout the school year on their Instagram page.