Editor’s note: Elizabeth has requested The Aggie to withhold her last name.
Two students sit in the same lecture. One is worried about his upcoming fraternity event, the other about where her next meal will come from.
Elizabeth, a fourth-year psychology major, recalled instances in which she had gone without food for a couple of days, and how heavily it impacted her school performance.
Students typically come to college to create a better future for themselves through education; however, while some students have the ability to work or come from families that are able and willing to support them, other students risk hunger just to make ends meet.
Elizabeth is a veteran transfer student who will be graduating this year, but she is also a single mom with two kids, ages six and eight. She commutes every day to UC Davis from Woodland while her kids are at school, and said she has gone hungry to feed them in times of extreme trouble.
“When I first transferred, my benefits, financial aid and my GI bill were lagging, and I didn’t have enough money to buy food for a month. I did things like buy bread from the dollar store and when I needed to, I went hungry for a few days,” Elizabeth said.
According to Elizabeth, the stresses of wondering if she could feed herself and her children had been anxiety-inducing, but she still doesn’t like asking for help. When things were especially bad, she got food from The Pantry, the UC Davis student-run food bank, but has yet to go on CalFresh, the food stamp program.
“There’s a very strong negative attitude towards asking for and needing help. It’s as if you think that you must have done something to deserve being in this type of situation,” Elizabeth said. “There’s an emotional reaction.”
Elizabeth said she takes every opportunity to save money. She receives about $4,000 from financial aid a quarter, minus her fees from SHIP (UC Davis health insurance). From her GI bill, she gets about $2,100 a month.
“My neighbor is really good about sharing the food that she gets with me, so I typically spend about $50 a week on groceries for the three of us, because I usually buy stuff like milk and cheese,” Elizabeth said.
Until recently, CalFresh benefits were given out in the form of actual coupons, and could be considered embarrassing to pull out in a grocery store.
“It took a long time to pull the right ones out, and the cashier had to stand there trying to figure out which coupons were the right ones for what you were buying,” Elizabeth said. “It felt like everyone in the store was staring at you, and you were holding up the line.”
Now, however, CalFresh benefits come in an EBT card that swipes in the card reader and looks just like a credit card. But Elizabeth has still tried to keep from going onto the program, something she attributes to her time in the military.
“In the military, there’s an attitude that you have to make things work or you have to suffer. Some people have been a part of the working class or the working poor for their entire lives,” Elizabeth said. “But if you’re taught as a child that you shouldn’t ask for help, it feels like you’re dying if you do. It’s like you failed at life.”
Elizabeth has considered trying to get a job on the side, but she explained that any money that she could make wouldn’t be enough to cover how much it would cost to put her children into day care for the time that she was at work.
She hopes to get a job after her June graduation, but said she worries that managers won’t want to hire someone with military experience. She added that the adage “Heaven doesn’t want me but hell is worried that I’ll take over,” rings true in this instance.
Many students are eligible for CalFresh or food stamp benefits, but are not aware of it. Though some might not consider themselves to be impoverished to the point of hunger, using CalFresh benefits to pay for some or all of their groceries may allow them to allocate money elsewhere.
The Community Food & Justice Coalition, an organization that promotes access to healthy food by partnering with organizations at many levels, has found that often people are uninformed about the ways they can find food.
“There are many resources available for people suffering from food insecurity that are often not taken advantage of,” said Armando Nieto, executive director of the Community Food & Justice Coalition.
The Pantry’s budget documents for 2013 and 2014 say that 27 percent of students said that they have skipped meals to save money “occasionally,” and another 11 percent said that they skip meals to save money “somewhat often.”
“Students unable to support their basic health may suffer academically as a result,” said Don Saylor, the District Two Yolo County supervisor.
According to Saylor, the rising costs of tuition combined with living on their own may leave a number of students with empty pocketbooks at the end of the week, making them unable to buy groceries.
“We have such agricultural abundance, but we also have people in the community who are not able to share in the abundance,” Saylor said. Saylor also stated that while food insecurity is a global problem, it should not be in an area that is so rich in resources
There are many factors in place to determine whether or not you can receive CalFresh benefits, and you can do a basic check of your eligibility online at mybenefitscalwin.org.
Even if students are not eligible for CalFresh benefits, they can find help at The Pantry, located at 21 Lower Freeborn. The Pantry is supported by various on-campus and community organizations, such as the Yolo County Food Bank.
With a valid UC Davis student ID, students can take up to three items per day, and the pantry offers toiletry options in addition to food.
Students who are interested in receiving food from the pantry can visit Monday through Friday from 9 to 11 a.m., and Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.