Food Pantry Reopens After Renovation

Students grabbing food from the cooler

March 21, 2023 - 04:54 PM

A crowded Food PantryThe Mountie Fresh Food Pantry has undergone a complete renovation and recently held its first Pantry in the renovated space. Located at the far south corner of building 67A (right next to the Bonita Ave. crossover bridge), the Pantry is there to fulfill a critical need at the college: combating food insecurity.

Rigo Estrada“The most recent data we have from 2020 shows that more than 35% of our students are food insecure,” said Rigo Estrada, Director of Basic Needs Resources.

Program Coordinator of Basic Needs, Vivian Hernandez explained, “If a student is skipping meals and deciding how or when they can afford to eat, they are food insecure.”

Leandro Perez“I started using the Pantry when I had empty pockets,” said Sociology and Social Work major Leandro Perez. “Mt. SAC has this neat program (the Pantry) where no student should go hungry, and I really appreciated that”.

Student opens the freezerThe big new addition to the Pantry is a freezer. This has expanded what can be offered to students, says Hernandez. “We are looking to focus on grab and heat items.” 

Vivian Hernandez“If a student is hungry, or has no lunch to eat, they can grab something at the Pantry and heat it at one of the many microwave stations across campus,” said Hernandez. “We are able to provide that immediate resource with frozen burritos, instant meals and other items.”

Student workers hold open the doors to the coolersNevertheless, students grabbing milk or other refrigerated items will have to plan on coming by right before they go home, rather than between classes so that the items do not spoil.

Food PantryThe Pantry was gutted, floor to ceiling, and is all new. The renovations were made possible with the use of one-time Basic Needs grant funds, as well as bond funds and scheduled maintenance funds.

All actively enrolled students may take part, but since the food available is limited, Estrada says he asks students, “to allow those students that need it the most to access the pantry.”

Cooler with signs saying "Limit 1"Students must have their current student ID card to shop. A couple of housekeeping rules for the Spring semester are that students will choose between milk or eggs, corn or flour tortillas, and bread or bagels.

Students with full baskets“They also upgraded their baskets,” said Leandro. “These neat rolling baskets hold more than the bags we had before.”

student shoppingAnother new feature is that many items are shelved in “food bundles”. “The food bundles are our way of choosing items that work together in recipes, like spaghetti,” said Hernandez. “We are not just providing the food resource, but the nutritional education as well.”

The recipes are designed to be made with low-cost ingredients, nutritious, and quick to fix.

Grace Manacop“It’s a good assortment of healthy foods”, said Grace Manacop, a Food Science major, “They give you recipes online to make whole meals.”

Estrada said that the Pantry has added cooking tools, as well, after realizing many students do not own a cutting board, spatula, or wooden spoon.

Students examine the cooking tools“In November of last year, during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a drive for donations of these cooking items supplied the stock we now have,” explained Estrada.

The Pantry is open on the second and fourth week of each month for three days each week. The next opening is Tuesday, March 28 at 11 a.m. Check the website for dates and times. There is no registration or appointment necessary, but lines will form at peak times.

Pantry aislesStudents will find the newly renovated Pantry looking like a small corner market, not unlike those that pepper residential neighborhoods in Los Angeles. This is by design, said staff.

“There’s no embarrassment in coming here,” explained Leandro. “No questions asked.”

“A major part of this renovation is just making this space look welcoming,” said Hernandez.

Produce section

Estrada explained, “We don’t want students to feel like this is a pantry. They should just feel like they are doing their normal grocery shopping.”

Students get five minutes to fill their basket, following the limits placed on specific items (generally 2). The student then goes outside to bag their groceries.   

Students boxed their own groceries and are taking it home“It’s quick and easy,” said Grace. “Why drive really far to a pantry, when this one is right here?”

Estrada sees the Pantry as only a short-term solution to food insecurity and said a longer-term solution is connecting students with Cal Fresh, a statewide program that can provide up to a year of groceries. Students should ask the staff at the Pantry or contact Basic Needs for more information on enrolling in that.