COC’s food pantry joins fight against hunger

Christopher Hopgood unpacks a donation made by a student at the Food For Thought Pantry at College of the Canyons on Monday, April 23, 2018. Cory Rubin/The Signal

A significant number of College of the Canyon students are at risk of homelessness and hunger this year, according to COC officials.

Last semester while at a club meeting, Christopher Hopgood learned that over 200 students studying at the College of the Canyons campus were declared homeless, and even more were considered “food insecure.”

“I couldnt believe it and didn’t understand it,” Hopgood said. “The more I researched, then the more I discovered it was a real issue.”

Nationally, about one-quarter of community college students suffer from some degree of food insecurity, or a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active and healthy life, according to a recent report from Students Against Hunger.

“When you consider the fact that we have (18,000 to 20,000 students) enrolled at any time, then there might be 200 kids who are at risk of homelessness,” assistant director of the Student Health & Wellness Center Larry Schallert said. The exact number is difficult to pinpoint for a number of reasons.

Schallert added that a few years ago he began meeting students who had no place to live and were staying on-campus or in the hills.

“We realized these students had a lot of motivation,” he added. “They just didn’t have a place to live or a way to find food or resources.”

In response to the growing crisis, COC created the on-campus Food For Thought Food Pantry two years ago as a place where hungry students can go in and grab food for the day.

“The free food pantry is an area in the student health and wellness center that looks like a grocery store,” Hopgood, who runs the on-campus pantry, said. “We also provide, school supplies, hygiene products, sunblock, clothing, toiletries and cosmetics.”

All of the items are donated and clubs on campus have already raised over $8,000 for the pantry.

Officials said a lack of funds is why they didn’t pursue the food pantry idea earlier, but they want students and staff to know that helpful resources are now available to them on-campus.

If the Food for Thought program encounters a student who is struggling with homelessness, then they are sent to the Student Health and Wellness Center.

The Student Health and Wellness Center has a case manager who assists currently enrolled low income and homeless students find resources in their community.

“We can help them find anything that they may qualify for,” Schallert said.

Emergency housing, food services, transportation, mental health services, life skills, CalFresh, employment and clothing are all available at the food pantry or in the Student Wellness Center.

The college’s food pantry has also recently teamed up with the SCV Food Pantry to provide more resources for potentially hungry students.

Unfortunately, as California has fallen further into a housing crisis, the need has continued to grow throughout the state.

Jason Schaff, president of the board of directors of the SCV Food Pantry, said his organization is working with the COC food pantry to boost its resources so that more students can be helped. Students who are at risk of homelessness are a growing population locally and there needs must be addressed, Schaff said.
“We’re looking for a way to market this to the Santa Clarita community,” Hopgood added. People should know that these aren’t uncommon occurrences. “Family issues happen, things flare up and people get kicked out of their homes all the time.”

Hopgood believes that nobody should feel as though they are alone, which is why he’s going classroom by classroom trying to get people to donate, volunteer and take advantage of these services.

“We know that Santa Clarita wants to do something and this is a good something to get involved in,” Hopgood said. “These services can help you get through these struggling times so you can stay on track and in school.”

Eventually, Hopgood would like to see prospective job applicants have access to suits and dresses in the on-campus food pantry and the Student Health and Wellness Center.

“College of the Canyons is the crowned jewel and tiara of the valley, and there are students there who are in serious need,” Hopgood said. “They need housing. They need clothing. They need food.”

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