Beyond Meals: The Sierra College Food Pantry

The financial weight of groceries can cause stress for students and their families. The Sierra College Food Pantry was started as a labor of love by the late Student Life Campus Coordinator, Tim Haenny (1957-2017). Today students and staff carry on the legacy to make sure no student goes hungry. 

The System

The Sierra College Food Pantry is available to all currently enrolled students. It is open Monday-Thursday from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It operates on a point system. Students have 16 points a week to start with which is bumped up to 20 if they bring the reusable bag provided after their first visit.

Though the pantry operates on a point system, some critical items are available at no point value; these include items such as menstrual and breastfeeding products, diapers and food items that have recently expired. Hygiene products and single-serving snack items are worth 1 point each; examples would be toothbrushes, snack bars, or ramen. Toilet paper, razors, hygiene kits and the like are all worth 2 points. Food products that will have 2 or more servings will cost 2 points such as tuna cans and macaroni and cheese boxes. Items that will add up to 3 or more servings will cost 3 points each. These could be large jars of peanut butter, large boxed or bagged pasta, bagged rice, bagged beans or cereal boxes.

There are limits on how many of a specific item is allowed weekly to help ensure there is enough product for each student. Currently, these limits are set at 5 snack items, 3 cans of tuna, 3 rice bags, up to 1 shampoo/conditioner/body wash bottle, 3 rolls of toilet paper, 2 tubes of toothpaste and up to 2 boxes of menstrual products. 

How Sierra Stacks Up

The Sierra College Food Pantry is open 23 hours a week which, according to a survey conducted by one of our Roundhouse journalists of 71 California Community Colleges(CCC), is in the above-average range of accessible hours for food bank services. The average CCC food pantry is only open for 8 hours or less. In terms of getting started as a student to use the pantry services, enrollment is simple with a student ID number and is open to all students- in contrast to other colleges such as Lake Tahoe Community College which bases food pantry usage on an interview and income. 

CCCs vary greatly in their food distribution programs ranging from pop-up produce markets to massive contact-free drive-thru events and mobile pantry services. In programs of similar accessibility to Sierra College’s Food Pantry, refrigeration isn’t common. In our Roundhouse investigation into other pantry programs, we found that the access to frozen and refrigerated products is largely due to the spaces where the programs were initially developed, in a closet or a kitchen for instance.

State of the Pantry

The Sierra College Food Pantry is comprised of shelf-stable products due to the inability to have refrigeration at the location. This may limit the types of goods the pantry can carry but this doesn’t limit the passion that the faculty and students have for it. During the time the Roundhouse News team spent at the pantry, food pantry employee and user Sahibpreet Otal called out to a staff member asking if they had seen a link to a fridge he had sent them that could be purchased for the Pantry. He also excitedly mentioned to another student at the Pantry that soon they might be carrying meats and produce. “Fresh milk, we can’t have… we wish we had a refrigerator,” Otal said.

The need for refrigeration was echoed by another student as well as Juan-Miguel Blanco, the Student Life Campus Coordinator. “Right now we are only non-perishable items…

So some food pantries have refrigeration so they have eggs, milk, they freeze bread, sometimes they have meat. We’re not there yet, our space doesn’t allow for refrigeration. It just doesn’t.

So in the future, that might be an option for us to find a location on campus where it’s large enough to have refrigeration and then students have the options for eggs, milk, and bread,” Blanco said. 

There is exciting growth in the works for Sierra College given the 2021 passing of bill AB 132 which requires all CCCs to have central basic needs hubs that include resources for food, housing, and the like. It also requires hiring a full-time staff member as a Basic Needs Coordinator. This bill also provides funding specifically for the basic needs programs and staff. The position and hubs must be in place by July 1, 2022.

“Unfortunately, we are bouncing students around like ‘okay go here for this, here for that,’ and so having that one-stop-shop model is the direction most community colleges are going,” Blanco said. 

Despite being open for only 23 hours a week, the Sierra College Food Pantry is making a real impact in the lives of students. Desiree May, a Sierra student and Food Pantry user told Roundhouse News:

It really reduces my cost of groceries, by about $100 a month… It’s pretty good as a student, you know? You have other things to worry about. This kind of eases the burden a little bit.

Blanco explained further, “To me [the Food Pantry] means we’re helping students. So, if we can remove one barrier, and hunger is a barrier for student success, I think we’re closing that equity gap… also, connecting students to resources. Oftentimes when students are visiting the food pantry, they have other questions about Financial Aid, about making an appointment with their counselors, so we’re at a high touch point.”

For Otal, the Food Pantry is about legacy. Not only did his siblings work at the Pantry, but Otal speaks highly of the Pantry founder. “Unfortunately, the one who started the Pantry passed by, and his name is Tim Haenny, he started the Food Pantry… He already had his vision on how the Food Pantry would go. And without his vision, we’re a little off-track,” Otal said. 

Thanks to Haenny and the kind-hearted student-workers and staff, the Food Pantry is available for all. With the new funding for basic needs resources coming their way, a breath of hope makes its way into the Student Life Office. Whether you need assistance or not, the staff of the Food Pantry welcomes anyone with open arms.

Video by Aviana Loveall | Written by Olivia Walters, Taylor Hamilton, and Madalyn Wright | Interviews by Aviana Loveall, Jessica Mananquil, Coby Estrada, and Madalyn Wright

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