USC now offers a food pantry for students who are experiencing food insecurity. The Emergency Food Pantry is located in Student Union Room 422 and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Food and monetary donations, and the student volunteers who run it, make the food pantry possible. The emergency resource is available to undergraduate and graduate students.
The pantry offers a variety of items from perishable and non-perishable foods to toiletries. Rules are that, per week, students can take only two bulk items, larger items that can be used for more than one meal, and three small individual items, such as granola bars and oatmeal.
Students can also create their own toiletry bags. They can choose three items, selecting from shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and other hygiene products. Toiletry bags and toilet paper can be taken twice per month.
University housing is also running a canned food drive through March 9 to add more non-perishable goods to the pantry. Donation bins are located in the lobbies of Troy Hall and Sierra Customer Service Center.
Stories behind the food pantry
One morning in 2015, Dan Li noticed something alarming after pulling an all-nighter with one of his close friends. Li, who was a USC Undergraduate Student Government senator, saw his friend skip breakfast before an exam because he was short on cash. It left Li shocked and feeling like there could be more students going hungry at USC.
Li and fellow USG senators Sabrina Enriquez and Alec White decided to make a food pantry a reality for students.
Li, who graduated last year, recalled that USG needed to provide data to the USC administration to prove that there was a need. To find support for the project, USG and the Graduate Student Government worked together on a survey of students in September 2015. The 1,460 respondents expressed a variety concerns about food affordability at USC.
Li also found out that UCLA had its own food pantry in its Student Union. He learned that there is an organization called College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA) to help schools to open their own satellite food banks.
Research shows that many students feel affected by food insecurity in some form. Thirty-two percent of respondents to a 2016 study conducted by CUFBA said that food insecurity problems either forced them to forgo buying a required textbook or caused them to miss class.
Li worried that a food pantry might hurt students because working to support oneself financially might be a great experience and lesson for students. However, he saw that food insecurity could impact student's academic and professional lives as well.
"These students had to work for food, instead of taking advantages of USC resources or finding an internship," said Li. "It will also influence their academic performance during tests or exams if they are hungry."
Li said another worry was the possibility that people might abuse and exploit the food pantry. He said he consulted with the UCLA food pantry, food banks in LA and CUFBA, and the conclusion was that typically won't be a big concern.
Li said the push for a student food pantry was a team effort. "I want to give the credits of the success of this food pantry to all USG people who continue the projects and made it happen," he said. "It's not easy to take over and accomplish it."
360 video produced by Drew Schwendiman and Ruth Chen.
This story has been updated on Monday, March 19th with the background information of the food pantry.