Food insecure students at the Fullerton campus of California State University now have a potential source of a good free meal, thanks to a program launched late last year that notifies them via email or text of the availability of leftover food from events.
The service is available to any student through the school’s online portal, which now has a button enabling an opt-in. As of February 8, 196 students had signed up, says Crystal Newman, marketing manager for the campus dining unit of the school’s Auxiliary Services Corp. (ASC).
“By now, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was double that,” she adds. “And we haven’t even started promoting it.”
Currently, the only ways to know about the service is either to see the opt-in button on the online portal—a site many students frequently access for a variety of reasons—or through word of mouth.
When a student signs up, he or she receives real-time notification about leftover food at a campus venue. The service window in which the food is available is usually fairly brief, about 15 to 20 minutes.
“Usually, they will set out to-go boxes so students can come in and fill them,” Newman explains.
Four campus organizations currently participate in Titan Bites: OC Choice Catering, ASC’s catering arm; Associated Students Inc., the student government body; Student Life & Leadership, which holds various events around campus; and Gastronome, the residential dining hall, which is operated by Aramark independently of the retail dining outlets managed by ASC.
OC Choice Catering is currently the only unit of ASC Campus Dining that participates in Titan Bites. ASC’s retail dining outlets have an ongoing program to collect extra food at the end of each week (they are closed on weekends) and donate it to a local women’s shelter.
Titan Bites was developed to deal with the issue of campus food insecurity, pegged at between a fifth and a quarter of all students across the Cal State system, according to a recent report.
“So [the university] got a task force together and broke it up into groups,” Newman recalls. “The group I led was working on ways to let students have access to extra food on campus.”
The best solution the group found was the push notification system, which debuted toward the end of the fall 2016 semester but really geared up only with the start of the spring 2017 session.
“We wanted to keep things kind of tight at the start to make sure it is working properly before we expand it,” Newman explains. “That’s why we haven’t advertised it yet, but that’s in the works. Probably in the next month or so there will be a lot of promotional material going out to let students know.”
The events from which food for Titan Bites notifications have been sent have not had problems, she adds. “They have been pretty orderly.”
As for any concerns about the service being exploited by students who aren’t really needy but are drawn by the prospect of a free meal, Newman says she is not too concerned, and is relying on the integrity of the campus community and on social pressures to deter abuse.
She rejects the idea of placing restrictions on the service as that might stigmatize legitimate users.
“Our main goal is to see that students in need feel comfortable using it,” she offers. “Restrictions would alienate them from participating.”