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Hope When It’s Needed

The most recent in a series of blog posts from the front lines of hunger relief with Woody Smith.

Trapped. That’s how many of us feel. We want to go somewhere. Anywhere really. Not being able to see family and friends can add an extra layer of gloom to the confinement created by this pandemic. For those with loved ones that are long distances away, the challenge of getting back together only adds another layer.

The University of California Irvine started this past school year with more than 36,000 students. When COVID-19 showed up, most went home to be with their families while waiting to find out what their academic futures would hold. But 5,000 of them are still on campus. Some are graduate students who live in on-campus student housing with their young families and some are international students not able to travel home. Many of these students have been impacted financially by the pandemic and find themselves in need of food assistance.

Whatever the situation that keeps students on campus and struggling to feed themselves, the Fresh Basic Needs Hub at UCI remains open to serve them, supported by food from Second Harvest. Student hunger is a serious challenge, made even worse by the pandemic, but Fresh, as it’s called, has the mission to provide for the basic needs of UCI students, allowing them to focus on academics.

Andrea is the Director of the Fresh Basic Needs Hub and is committed to caring for the students who come to Fresh for help. Along with food and toiletries, Andrea is now also able to give students vouchers that can be redeemed at a local produce market, supplementing the food that Fresh provides.

But it’s not just food the Fresh team gives to students, it’s also hope and dignity. Andrea explains, “Our commitment is really to care for them and to make sure that they know there is somewhere they can seek support and they will receive it, without judgment. We are coming from a place of saying we honor you and we want you to have a dignified experience even though times are tough right now.”

Before working in food distribution, I had no idea there was a need for food pantries on college campuses, but studies conducted last year revealed that up to 40% of students have experienced food insecurity. For that reason, Second Harvest supports nine college pantries in Orange County. Many college students are committed to making a better future for themselves and go so far as to neglect their basic needs to pay for tuition and books.

But at Fresh, and all the other college pantries we support, the goal is to give food in a manner that says, “I see you, and it’s a privilege to serve you because your life matters.” By providing food – and hope – Fresh and Second Harvest gives students a chance to be successful.

Last week did not feel hopeful. Seeing the injustice of the past few days makes me cringe. It causes me to grieve when I see people treated unfairly or worse. But I’m choosing to move forward with hope. How can I have hope this week? Because I know Andrea and I see how she treats people who sometimes feel trapped. The team at Fresh, and all the other college pantries in Orange County serve as a lifeline for their students, providing for basic needs and offering a dignified experience for everyone who comes to them for help. Their service is a beacon of hope in the darkness.

As I sip my coffee, I think of the quote by Andy Stanley that says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” We all have the opportunity to make one person’s life better and doing so may even make our own lives better.

Wishing you hope this week. Let’s do our best to make one another’s lives just a little better – one kindness at a time.