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Student Affairs

A Helping Hand

Student shopping in food pantry
Written By Jayan Kalathil

Since 2014, Cal Poly has had its own Food Pantry on campus to help serve the needs of those in the campus community who are experiencing food insecurity. The Food Pantry, located in the Campus Health and Wellbeing building, is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offers free unlimited food options, including canned goods and fresh produce, as well as hygienic items.

The Food Pantry is stocked with items from a variety of sources, such as the SLO Food Bank and donated goods from members of the community. It also participates in a food rescue program with local grocery stores in San Luis Obispo and the various markets across campus. Local fresh produce is supplied weekly from Cal Poly’s own crops unit. 

Fresh produce in the Cal Poly Food Pantry refridgerator

"When you hear about a pantry you expect to see a bunch of canned food, but we really work hard to make it much more than just a place where you can get a can of green beans,” explained Taffy Gonzalez, Food Pantry coordinator. “We are very fortunate to get a lot of fresh produce so it’s a very inviting space that’s well balanced in terms of nutrition. Today I just had 30 fully cooked hams come in.” 

Students living on campus take advantage of this resource, but third and fourth-year students who live off campus and don’t have access to a meal plan make up a greater share. The Food Pantry is also considered a BIPOC serving resource, as a higher percentage of BIPOC students utilize it than their representative population on campus. Additionally, many transfer students and international students utilize this service. 

I think the Food Pantry takes a lot of stress off of students. It’s hard enough just to be a student, let alone to worry about where your next meal is coming from. They already have enough pressure, finding food shouldn’t be part of that.

Taffy Gonzalez

Food Pantry Coordinator

A survey in 2022 showed that 39% of Cal Poly students indicated that they experienced food insecurity sometime within a 60-day timeframe, which was up from 27% just a few years earlier. In addition, visits to the Pantry have grown significantly over the past few years, from almost 10,000 total visits just two years ago to nearly 30,000 total visits last year, a threefold increase in just one year. This year is on track to exceed that number as well. For the first nine weeks of 2023’s fall quarter, there have been an average of 1,730 visits per week. 

There are several potential reasons why more Cal Poly community members might be accessing the Food Pantry now. 

“After the pandemic, inflation rose and things have become much more expensive,” explained Hannah Steen, Basic Needs coordinator for Cal Poly. “Groceries are expensive, and food is expensive. For our students who live on campus, accessibility is a big issue if you don’t have a car or if you’re busy all the time in classes. We see both financial issues and accessibility issues at the Food Pantry.” 

The staff at the Food Pantry go out of their way to make sure that everyone feels welcome. Knowing that accepting help may bring about a variety of emotions for some visitors, the Food Pantry has no eligibility requirements or other hoops to jump through that might provide a barrier for any students who are looking for assistance. 

Sign at the Cal Poly Food Pantry

“We’ve worked very hard to make a very comfortable environment here where students feel really welcome,” said Gonzalez. “The word of mouth has spread that it’s ok to come in here and we’ll treat you with kindness and compassion.” 

Most of the Food Pantry’s budget is made possible through donations. Monetary donations are especially important as they allow for the ability to purchase food at subsidized rates. There is also a wish list on Amazon where donors can directly purchase items for the pantry. As the campus need has increased, the Food Pantry has begun to outgrow its current space and is also in need of a new freezer. Alumni and parents have played a key role in making connections to leaders in industry who have made generous in-kind donations of food and supplies. 

The staff at the Food Pantry know that the work they are doing is filling a vital role on campus by supplying nutritious food to those who might need it.  

“I think it takes a lot of stress off of students,” said Gonzalez. “It’s hard enough just to be a student, let alone to worry about where your next meal is coming from. They already have enough pressure, finding food shouldn’t be part of that.” 

During this season of giving, you can make your gift in support of the Cal Poly Food Pantry at The Food Pantry also welcomes one-time or recurring donations of nonperishable, unopened foods, unopened, individually packaged hygienic personal items and school supplies. View a complete list of requested and accepted items on their website. For questions regarding donating to the Food Pantry, contact Taffy Gonzalez, Food Pantry Coordinator at 805-756-7818 or [email protected].