Healthy, affordable food options for students
Compton College, Everytable, extend healthy, affordable food options for students; a model for community colleges By DR. KEITH CURRY and SAM POLK Sheyna, 26, is in her second semester at Compton College studying to be a
Compton College, Everytable, extend healthy, affordable food options for students; a model for community colleges
By DR. KEITH CURRY and SAM POLK
Sheyna, 26, is in her second semester at Compton College studying to be a lawyer. Yet, right now, just getting food — much less healthy food — is a day-to-day struggle.
“I’m constantly worrying about it. I have to calculate if I’ll have enough money for gas to take me and my two kids to and from school, then drive another 10 miles to get to a grocery store and still have time to cook,” Sheyna said. “At dinnertime in my neighborhood, you see lines at McDonald’s going out [of[ the parking lot because it’s the only thing quick and convenient for working-class people.”
Sheyna’s monthly food budget for herself and two kids is $500 or $17 a day. This includes CalFresh dollars — food stamps — which puts Sheyna in the minority; only one out of five students eligible for food assistance receives the monthly stipend, largely because most students are unaware of their eligibility or have difficulty signing up.
Even when Sheyna has enough money, there are few places to get good food near campus. Her breakfast is usually a couple of overpriced bananas and a tea that she buys at a gas station near Compton College.
At Compton College, there is a single food vendor, which has the exclusive contract to operate the cafeteria. The Compton College cafeteria closes at 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, even though classes run as late as 8 p.m. Students studying in the library late at night end up going off-campus to fast food restaurants for dinner. Sheyna says she finds it harder to concentrate and be active when she eats fast food — an added layer of stress to studying, childcare, and making ends meet.
At Compton College, students face many such obstacles in their academic journey. According to the Compton College #RealCollege Survey School Report released by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice; and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 59 percent of Compton College students said they are food insecure, 68 percent are housing insecure, and 18 percent said they experienced homelessness in the past year.
Not being able to eat makes it harder to focus and results in lower grades. Food-insecure students’ GPAs are 9 percent lower on average, according to a UCLA research study. Students who can’t afford to eat are also three times more likely to leave school because of the financial toll.
This needs to change. It is time for California to lead again by empowering motivated students to complete their higher education, and it starts by providing more funding for nutritional options for community college students. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice recommends the creation of a program for college students based on the National School Lunch Program, a program created by President Harry S. Truman in 1946 that provides K-12 students with free or reduced-cost lunches.
Sheyna received free or reduced lunch throughout her primary and secondary school education. Now, as she works to educate and support herself at the same time, subsidizing convenient and healthy options could help her and the one million community college students in California who struggle with food insecurity. There is a need to ensure that healthy and affordable food options are available, both on and near community college campuses.
California state legislators and community college administrators are recognizing the issue and taking matters into their own hands. Through Hunger-Free Campus funding provided in the 2018-2019 California Budget, many community colleges started food pantries on their campuses. But this is not nearly enough. The solutions need to go beyond cheap, shelf-stable, predominately processed food donations.
There is a need for healthy, fresh, and affordable food options on all community college campuses. The co-writers of this commentary are well-positioned to begin addressing this problem. Compton College is pleased to announce a pilot partnership for fall 2019 with Everytable, a healthy grab-and-go restaurant chain that recently opened a diner locally, fills the gap between nutrition and affordability while accommodating longer hours of service.
The practice is in operation through a partnership between Everytable and California State University, Los Angeles, where the diner opens daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., offering nutritionally-balanced, high-quality meals that accommodate a range of dietary needs for $5 to $6. The Everytable experience there has shown that there is a huge demand among college students for healthy, low-cost food. The Everytable system works.
Beginning this fall, Compton College students will be able to receive free and reduced cost dinners, provided by Everytable on the Compton College campus. This model can be replicated at other California community colleges. It is time to help struggling community college students access nutritional food when and where they are, at a price they can afford. For many of these students, that price should be free.
Dr. Keith Curry is president and CEO of Compton College, and Sam Polk is the CEO of Everytable.