California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA) launched a free bi-weekly curbside grocery pickup service that provides students with a range of fresh foods and non-perishables designed to assemble at least three to four meals a week utilizing components from all five of the basic food groups. The initiative is a collaborative effort among the Division of Student Life, University Auxiliary Services and CSULA Dining Services that is available to all enrolled CSULA students.
The university had maintained a food pantry for food-insecure students previous to the COVID pandemic, but the crisis forced an adjustment to minimize contact between staff and students patronizing the service. Currently, the effort is planned to go only into December, “but based on need we can definitely adjust and are well poised to continue into the spring,” says Frangelo Ayran, assistant dean of students for wellness & engagement.
The system alternates sign-up weeks and distribution weeks. On sign-up weeks, students go to the pantry website to enroll, choose the package they prefer—regular or vegetarian—and a pickup time the following week at the loading dock area behind the university’s Golden Eagle building, where staff members wearing protective masks will bring the pre-assembled bags to their vehicles.
In addition to the food, the bags include flyers encouraging students to reach out to CSULA Dining Services Executive Chef Daniel Keenan with any cooking or preparation questions. In the future, Keenan intends to include recipes in the bags utilizing the enclosed ingredients, and even conduct virtual cooking sessions.
In its first week, 136 students signed up for the pickups, a number expected to be near 200 for the second week of the program as more students found out about it, says Ayran
“It is currently limited to 200 and we utilize that number because this is still a pilot program, but in our in-person pantry [previously], we would have about 200 students a week, so we’re going off the averages right now.”
The curbside program is somewhat different than the traditional pantry, not only in how students get their food but in the product mix. Whereas previously, the inventory was restricted to non-perishables and dry goods because the panty was licensed only for dry goods, the alliance with Dining Services has allowed it to extend the mix to include perishable products like fresh produce and even dairy.
“It is a little more expensive, honestly, but at the same time, it’s a need that our students have and the old way of doing the pantry, where we would go grocery shopping and work with our vendors who would provide us with low-cost groceries is essentially not there anymore because they have to deal with the pandemic as well. So if we have a supplier who can definitely supply us as they do to our dining services, we definitely wanted to work with them to supply this need for our students.”
Another change is that while previously the pantry solicited both product and monetary donations, it now is emphasizing online monetary donations to discourage coming to campus to deliver food donations.
CSULA has been conducting almost all of its classes remotely because of the pandemic and has seen its on-campus resident student population drop from the typical thousand living in its campus apartments to only about 70 hardship cases with no other housing option. Nevertheless, the university is proceeding with adding another 1,500 student residences for when the crisis ends.