Cafeteria vouchers vow to feed

The Los Angeles Times reported in June 2017 that 65 percent of students on Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) campuses could not afford balanced meals.

This academic school year, the Financial Aid Office, CalFresh and St.A.S.H. (Students Against Student Hunger) tried to alleviate food insecurity on campus by providing 120 five-dollar vouchers to Pierce College’s Pacific Dining cafeteria.

The vouchers, which expire at the end of May, were given away by a representative from CalFresh at a St.A.S.H. stand on the Mall last week, political science professor Denise Robb said. Vice President of Student Services Earic Dixon-Peters and Financial Aid Director Anafe Robinson facilitated the vouchers’ distribution.

Robb said the vouchers were created by ASO Senator Gisela Tarifa, who also serves as chair of the Community Welfare Committee and works with St.A.S.H. Tarifa co-authored the Brahma Initiative, an ASO-designed resolution to bring awareness to surrounding student homelessness and food insecurity.

Tarifa said a Pierce-local response to these issues may be especially necessary given that low-income students may be overlooked in an area as prosperous as Woodland Hills.

“There’s a stigma against college students who face these insecurities, like, ‘Oh, wow, you should be living at home with your parents,’ when we know that isn’t how it is for everyone,” Tarifa said. “Especially being on an affluent campus, or being in an affluent area, it makes you want to just tell no one, stay quiet, and deal with your problems yourself.”

Tarifa said this stigma may keep the demographic in need from asking for help and that peer-led food justice groups are not privy to students’ financial information, which could be used to identify the target of their good will.

Tarifa said that there’s no way for her to know if the vouchers are distributed to the people who are in legitimate need.

“St.A.S.H. will never know if someone is truly in need unless they share their story. But, helping one person helps everyone, if you think about it,” she said.

Tarifa said CalFresh, with the help of the Financial Aid Office, does know who the vouchers ought to go to.

“Through St.A.S.H., I found out the ends and pieces on how the school works, and I found out that financial aid takes care of that information on who is foster youth, who is homeless and who is food insecure. They have that information because students fill out forms for financial aid,” Tarifa said.

Engineering major Emmanuel Francisco said he stood in line to receive an orange from St.A.S.H. and a voucher from CalFresh because a lifetime of hardship taught him to use the resources around him to get a step up.

“I’ve known what it is to struggle, and from that, to take advantage of the free, great opportunities you can,” Francisco said.

Robb said the vouchers are not new, so much as revived. Years before the Times’ study was published and Pacific Dining established a presence on campus, Robb said the beloved owner of the former Falafelicious food truck, Ofir Bass, wanted to nourish lower income students before and after he took over the previously unoccupied cafeteria space.

Robb said that, with Bass’ help, she was able to raise $600 worth of student coupons during her time on the Foundation for Pierce College. However, after Bass lost the cafeteria bid to Pacific Dining, the vouchers were nullified.

“I called Pacific Dining and said I lost out on this $600, because the vouchers were no longer good anymore. I asked them if they would honor them, and they said yes,” Robb said.