Local food bank to distribute supplies to food-insecure students in pilot program

Aug. 24, 2019, 2:30 p.m.

Bring grocery bags, transportation (like a wagon, stroller, or a car) and your Stanford ID card, the RSVP form asks. The Monday event is a pilot of a campus food pantry, where students who self-identify as food insecure will receive up to 150 lbs of food per household. 

In a trial collaboration with Stanford’s Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) and the Graduate Student Council (GSC), Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, a local food bank whose website says it feeds a tenth of Silicon Valley’s population, will deliver food to Stanford’s campus on three pilot dates. Monday is the first delivery, with the others planned for Sept. 23 and Oct. 28. Volunteers will help distribute items like rice, beans, cereal, yogurt, meat and produce to attendees on a first-come-first-served basis. 

“The pilot food pantry program grew out of conversations between leaders of Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE), graduate students and the Graduate Student Council (GSC) about ways to address food insecurity on campus,” R&DE spokesperson Jocelyn Breeland wrote in an email to The Daily. “R&DE is pleased to partner with the GSC and the Second Harvest Food Bank (SHFB) of Silicon Valley to offer supplemental food to Stanford graduate students who self-identify as food insecure.”

The event also appears to be open to undergraduates, though the exact eligibility requirements are unclear. Breeland’s email referred only to graduate students. R&DE’s RSVP form on Wednesday advertised to “graduate students and their affiliates who self-identify as food-insecure,” despite asking prospective attendees to indicate their role at Stanford, with one of the options being for a “postdoctoral student”; the form has since been amended to include undergraduates. 

Second Harvest representatives did not immediately respond to The Daily’s requests for comment. 

The first delivery, scheduled for Monday between 1 and 2:30 p.m. on the lawn at Dudley Lane near Building 49, will follow months of student activism aimed at addressing food insecurity on campus. Members of student groups including the GSC, Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) and Stanford Solidarity Network (SSN) have pushed for action, and hope to see the pilot program expanded.

At a GSC meeting in March, it was announced that Second Harvest would come Stanford within two weeks. At that assembly, Ana Tarano B.S. ’13 M.S. ’15, a Diversity & Advocacy Committee (DAC) co-chair and an aeronautics and astronautics Ph.D. candidate, floated the idea of the Council allocating some of its discretionary funds to address campus food insecurity. 

While that idea didn’t take hold, Tarano, who says she has experienced food insecurity herself, has worked as an advocate for ensuring students have enough to eat, working with University officials to push through delays and help bring Second Harvest to campus. 

“We held a town hall in November, and we discovered that actually less than 12.5% of graduate students pay less than the recommended 30% rent from their salaries or stipend,” Tarano told The Daily, referring to guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that define families who pay more than that proportion of their income as “cost burdened,” potentially struggling to afford items like food and clothing. “It’s really no surprise that graduate students have a hard time paying for certain necessities.” 

“It’s important because students who are contributing so much to Stanford’s community — whether it’s through teaching or doing research — should be able to sustain themselves physically,” she continued. “It’s one of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ most elementary necessities, is to feed yourselves.”

Forest Peterson M.S. ’07, a graduate student in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) who describes himself as food insecure, and a member of the Stanford Solidarity Network and the Student Parent Alliance, began advocating in March after The Daily reported about other food-insecure graduate students. 

“You feel the suffering yourself, but then to find out you have colleagues who are also suffering,” he said. 

After conversations with other SSN members and contact with local government officials, he helped kick off efforts to bring a food bank to campus.

“Let’s make sure this isn’t a problem ever again, by pushing the safety net underneath Stanford,” he said. 

Students have considered multiple methods for addressing campus food insecurity. Prior to becoming the ASSU Executive Co-Director of Affordability, Grace Achepohl ’20 wrote an op-ed in The Stanford Review calling for a meal swipe sharing program, through which students could donate their dining-hall credits to others in need. But after conversations with graduate students and R&DE representatives, she decided a pantry-like program would be a better fit. 

“One thing that the meal swipe sharing program lacks in, is that it is trying to reallocate undergraduate resources to graduate students,” Achepohl said, “when in reality, Stanford has lots of resources, and we need to be vigilant about getting Stanford to allocate those resources to the graduate student population, which is a larger population in and of itself than the undergraduate student population.” 

An attractive possibility of the pantry program, she said, is that of starting a food bank, a more permanent installation.

“It has become exceedingly clear that students on Stanford’s campus are struggling with affordability issues,” Achepohl said. “We understand that this food pop-up is not going to solve all those affordability issues; we are in the midst of Silicon Valley, which is one of the most expensive zip codes in the country. But we need to do something.” 

Achepohl’s colleague as ASSU affordability co-director is Irán Román, an SSN member and an international graduate student studying music and neuroscience and entering his sixth year at Stanford. Román agrees that a food bank is not the final stop in addressing campus food insecurity. 

“Stanford has to raise the wages for its student workers,” he said. “This is life support; this is not the solution of the problem. It’s helping people who otherwise would be in very serious trouble, like me when I was food insecure.” 

Román was paid as little $0 after the deduction of University housing during some periods of his time at Stanford, with his wife on a visa that restricted her from working. His circumstances, profiled in Daily reporting, led him to scavenge for food from campus trees to sustain his family. 

“After I came out with my story of how food insecurity is such an issue for grad students, that started a conversation among neighbors and among other students,” Román said. “I learned that it’s just not me.”

Neighbors told him they already went to food pantries or food banks in Palo Alto, he said, or received government assistance. So an on-campus pantry or food bank, he said, “would just make sense,” cutting transportation costs and making logistics easier. 

Contact Charlie Curnin at ccurnin ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Charlie Curnin '22 is the editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily. Contact him at eic 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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