Stan State professors pitch in to help broke students

A collection drive is on to fill the shelves of a new Campus Food Pantry in the student union building of California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock on Thursday.
A collection drive is on to fill the shelves of a new Campus Food Pantry in the student union building of California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock on Thursday. naustin@modbee.com

Mention college days and images pop up of pizza parties, racing to finish a put-off paper and the joy of a semester over. But for more than a third of Stan State students, hopes for the future coexist with hunger today, and the winter chill lasts longer than a dash between classes.

“Blankets were the first thing to go,” noted Carlene Dyer, a California State University, Stanislaus, student helping to organize the Campus Food Pantry in the student union building. The pantry, stocked with blankets, toiletries and food, opened Nov. 23 and now stands much depleted.

As of Thursday morning, 32 students had used the new service – two visited twice, said Dyer, an Associated Students Inc. vice president. Besides blankets and food, the most popular items were can openers and reusable water bottles, listed on a scribbled inventory of what students took.

“It’s small, but it’s happening,” she said. “Students are definitely using it.”

The pantry, and financial help through the Student Emergency Fund, have coalesced under the Campus Cares Fund, bringing together a hodgepodge of student and state efforts to address student food shortages and homelessness. Emergency money is limited to help in a crisis or catastrophic event.

The faculty union stepped up with seed money, a $35,000 donation with $25,000 of that set aside to start an endowment meant to make both services self-sustaining.

“It boils down to the fact that we’re teachers and we care about our students and their ability to learn,” said Steven Filling, professor of accounting and president of the Stanislaus chapter of the California Faculty Association.

“There are teachers that routinely bring food to their classes for students. The food disappears and suddenly students are a lot more engaged in the learning process,” Filling said in a statement. “It’s an urgent need and this is our community stepping up to participate in addressing the challenges our students face.”

A CSU systemwide study released in February found about 10 percent of California State University students are homeless and at least twice that many cannot count on regular meals. Students lacking stable housing or food reported high levels of stress and, the report noted, needed to have a single place to go for help, not a list of overlapping services to figure out.

In the depths of the recession in 2010, Stan State did its own campus study and found 43 percent of students had skipped a meal and 81 percent had to cut back on food during the school year because of money problems.

The Turlock campus now joins at least 11 CSU campuses offering students assistance programs. Like grade schools, universities are seeing that hungry students do not learn well, Filling said.

“I’ve had conversations with struggling students, and suggested that they would find it much easier to do well in the class if they bought the textbook,” he said. “Students often responded that they had to make choices between paying their bills, buying textbooks or buying food.”

The professors’ gift shows great compassion, said Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn. “It means so much to me personally that our faculty is so invested in not only the education of our students, but also their overall well-being,” she said.

Students are running a can drive to help fill the pantry shelves, with barrels and boxes in most campus buildings. Cash donations can be made to Campus Cares at www.csustan.edu/giving.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin