By many measures, UCLA is the nation’s premier public research university in the nation. Located in Westwood, UCLA is surrounded by some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country. Yet, even in this oasis of learning and affluence, many UCLA students quietly suffer from food insecurity.
Launched in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession, UCLA’s Community Programs Office Food Closet offers free food for any UCLA student who may be experiencing hunger or is struggling to attain food due to financial hardships. The number of students who visit the Food Closet, even now in the midst of a decade-long economic recovery, would surprise most of us. It should be noted that UCLA has an exceptional record among elite universities of accepting and graduating low-income and first-generation college students. In 2019, more than 35% of UCLA’s 31,000 undergraduates received Pell Grants, the federal aid program for students from low-income families. But, as you well know, tuition is only a fraction of the real cost of attending any college, especially an elite research university like UCLA. For too many students, food, especially nutritious food, becomes a luxury and, when that happens, their academic performance in this competitive environment suffers.
In 2019, the UCLA Food Closet joined the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank’s Extra Helpings program. Extra Helpings redirects good, nutritious, healthy food away from landfills and into the stomachs of our hungry neighbors across LA County, including hungry students at UCLA. Twice a week, student workers at UCLA’s Food Closet are directed by the Food Bank to a local retailer to pick up perfectly healthy food that would otherwise be trucked to landfills. Instead, they bring the food (mostly fresh fruit, vegetables and proteins) back to campus and use it to stock the closet and feed hungry students.
Students are incredibly grateful for the Food Closet. And, although they don’t know it, they are grateful for you and everyone who supports the LA Regional Food Bank.