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Cerritos College Give Students a Safe Haven Through Falcons Nest

Cerritos College Give Students a Safe Haven Through Falcons Nest

For college students, being food insecure has become a stigmatized norm. Many students across Los Angeles County will head to class with empty stomachs, causing a distracted mind, and preventing them from learning in the classrooms.

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, students who experience food insecurity are more likely to suffer psychological and academic effects, including a decrease in physical and mental health. Food-insecure students are more likely to earn lower grades than their peers.

Because of this, Cerritos College, one of the five largest community colleges in the County, partnered with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank in an effort to help its students succeed not just in the classroom.

With over two-thirds of its students struggling with food insecurity, the College established Falcons Nest, a food market that provides students with their basic needs – food for their pantries, hygiene assistance, a professional closet, and housing support – a one-stop support center for students in need.

As part of the efforts to reduce food insecurity, Cerritos College and the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank host a monthly drive-through food distribution, aimed not just at college students, but at the community, as well.

Since the beginning of the partnership between Cerritos and the Food Bank, the College received a total of 403,729 pounds of food in 2019. But since the pandemic started, that number has doubled, with over 817,000 pounds delivered in 2020, and a total of more than 1.1 million pounds as of March 2020 to July 2021.

Seeing the fallouts of the pandemic among the student population is Falcons Nest Program Manager Pamela Sepulveda, LCSW. Sepulveda not just helps run the monthly food distributions, including training and execution, but hears firsthand the stories from students struggling with food insecurity and financial strains almost on a daily basis. It’s the stories she hears that motivate her to continue helping the Cerritos College community.

“Our campus is proud that throughout the pandemic, we’ve been able to continue our monthly food distributions, here once a month for the community and for the students,” Sepulveda said. “Our basic needs program includes the food distribution that we are doing here today, and so much more.

“We have one mom who was struggling to make ends meet as a student,” she added. “When they’re able to provide fresh produce like we have today – lettuce, pears, and celery, things that are a staple item for a family to have a healthy meal – there’s something that does that to a parent, and not just a student, but a parent. We’re stabilizing families in that way as well.”

Sepulveda helps bring together volunteers to help at the distributions. While she has a community of College volunteers every month that includes students, staff, and faculty, there is the occasional volunteer from the community or even a current or past food recipient that sees the good they are doing and is interested in helping.

“The volunteers here today range from students at Cerritos College to staff and faculty, and we see some community members who see this big commotion going on once a month and they say they want to get involved,” she said. “We’re very fortunate to have a wide array of different volunteers, and all the volunteers here, a lot of them started off because they came through the line at the food distribution, and then asked, ‘Can I come volunteer?’”

RELATED STORY: A Family Affair to Help Those in Need at Cerritos College

Among the volunteers helping that day was Jeremy Ramos, a third-year Geography major at Cerritos College eager to make a difference and help his fellow peers and his community. Since November of 2020, Ramos has been volunteering in the monthly drive-through distributions after being inspired by one of his peers, as well as learning about the struggles his fellow classmates are going through to find their daily meals.

At every food distribution, Ramos sees the thousands of cars and food recipients that go by, meeting new people – volunteers and recipients – and hearing countless stories of the impact the food distributions make in this community.

“There are so many people who are struggling; too many losing their jobs due to the pandemic, or getting low wages,” he said. “It’s a struggle right now, and we don’t want people to struggle with food insecurity. We have these amazing events for students to be aware and let their families and neighbors know that we are here to support them and here for one another and hopefully, they get to help each other out.”

Students shouldn’t have to go to class on an empty stomach. With or without a pandemic, college students across Los Angeles County are struggling with food insecurity. Please consider donating to the LA Regional Food Bank and helping students and others in need.

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