Food is a major focus of the holidays, but it’s also a time of year that can lay bare the challenges of food insecurity and shine a light on organizations that feed the hungry.
CSUN has its own Food Pantry — that provides shelf-stable food to students, faculty and staff in need, year-round. Campus food pantries have multiplied across the nation, as many students support themselves and face challenges meeting living and education expenses. In 2018, the California State University’s Study of Student Basic Needs showed more than 41% of CSU students reported experiencing food insecurity.
Christel Bowen ’18 (FCS/Nutrition and Dietetics) is the activities assistant for Food Programs at CSUN’s Food Pantry. She manages a team of nine student assistants, in addition to several volunteers. Bowen started as a student assistant in 2017, while working toward her undergraduate degree in family and consumer sciences, with a focus in nutrition, dietetics and food science, in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD). She initially aimed to work as a dietician in a hospital setting but changed her mind after working with students at the pantry.
Being able to get involved with the mission of the food pantry — and being able to provide service and work with a bunch of amazing volunteers and student assistants — my whole career trajectory changed, because of the involvement I [had] here,” she said.
Bowen wants to stay focused on food programs that address health and food security, she said. She’s working on her master’s in human nutrition in the College of Health and Human Development.
Students are an often-overlooked segment of the food-insecure population, Bowen said.
“Because there isn’t really a way food insecurity looks, right?” she said. “A lot of people think that once you come to college, everything is golden … and that’s not necessarily the truth. As somebody who went through struggles myself when I first came here, regarding food, I know that’s not the truth.”
Bowen said when she came to CSUN, she had to use personal loans and her savings to cover her housing costs, which left little money for food.
“So, I ended up having to decrease the amount and the types of food I ate,” she said. “It was around [that] time I learned about the pantry and that they were looking for a student assistant. I applied and was able to not only get an income from the position but also get access to the shelf stable goods that are available at the pantry.”
Bowen said after starting her job, the CalFresh Outreach student assistant helped her apply for the state’s nutrition assistance benefits, and she found she was eligible for the maximum amount, which at the time was $196 per month.
The Food Pantry is located in Laurel Hall, on Plummer Street — between Lilac and Sagebrush Halls, and adjacent to Jacaranda Hall. No one is asked to show proof of need — only a CSUN ID is necessary to receive a week’s worth of supplemental food items. Toiletries are also available, on request. There is a Pop-Up Pantry every other week during the semester, set up farmers market style, to provide fresh produce in part by the campus’s own Freight Farm, run by the Institute for Sustainability. Nutrition education is also available through the Basic Needs Office CalFresh Healthy Living on college campuses program.
Bowen said she’s thankful for all the support she gets in her work, from her supervisors, student assistants and volunteers. “If we didn’t have such great support, we wouldn’t be able to do as much as we do,” she said. “I’m very grateful to have such a great team.”
There are a number of ways to support CSUN’s Food Pantry, not only during the holiday season, but year-round, she said. There are always volunteer opportunities, there’s an Amazon wish list, there are donation bins for non-perishable items located at the Food Pantry, and one can donate online.