A FRESH Start: Student-Initiated Food Pantry Aims to End Hunger Insecurity at UCI

The FRESH Hub after receiving its stock on Mondays. Photo taken by Sabrina Claros.

By Alex Cardona

Opening a little over a year ago, UC Irvine’s FRESH Basic Needs Hub is center that houses the on campus food pantry which provides students with necessities to help those struggling from food insecurity. From its humble beginnings as just two shelves inside of the Student Outreach and Retention Center, also known as SOAR, student staff and volunteers have turned FRESH into a haven for those struggling on campus. Open from Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Lot 5, the FRESH Hub also offers basic toiletries, a kitchen to make quick meals, a wellness corner, CalFresh application assistance, and various life skills workshops. Those who work at FRESH are incredibly passionate about their work and believe that food and housing security are rights that should be granted to every person.

Often overlooked, hunger is a prominent issue within residents of Orange County and UCI students are no exception. Yet, despite persisting issues of food insecurity, UCI was one of the last UC colleges to have a functioning food pantry. Since the advent of FRESH, from Sept. 2017 to Aug. 2018, the pantry has served over 14,000 of UCI’s students and continues to serve hundreds of students every week.

Thanks to public donations and help from the staff, the FRESH pantry receives 4000 pounds of food from the Second Harvest food bank every Monday before doors open.

“The pantry is well stocked during particular times of the week,” says Pantry Manager Devin Rankin. “For the first three weeks of school, we have been serving an average of 750 visitors per week.”

Devin is just one of numerous staff and faculty members who work together to ensure the well being of as many UCI students as they possibly can. He loves working at FRESH because helping people through their food insecurities is very important to him.

“I enjoy being able to serve the UCI campus and relieve students of some of the insecurities that they may have regarding food, finances, or housing.”

In addition to providing students with an additional resource for food and toiletries, the FRESH Hub also provides other services for students. In the back, there is a kitchen where students can grab packaged foods to microwave. There is also a campus chef who provides cooking demonstrations, and the staff is also always on hand to help with CalFresh (food stamps) and housing applications. The FRESH Hub’s modest beginnings at the SOAR Center have now grown into a community dedicated to helping students in any way that they can.

“One of the greatest things I like about it [FRESH] is just seeing it grow,” says Programming Manager, Selma Hassane. As Programming Manager, Selma coordinates the workshops, presentations, and chef demonstrations. She believes the programs are just as important as the pantry itself, for it helps students ensure their own wellness. Hassane has loved “Seeing it grow from the SOAR food pantry, which was two bookshelves, to what you know it as today.” She takes pride in the fact that the FRESH Hub was a student initiated effort and that students continue to be a huge part of it today.

The FRESH Hub was initiated by students and is always welcome to those who want to help. FRESH takes donations of unopened, non-perishable food, and students can donate extra meal swipes to their Zot Out Hunger program which provides dining hall entry for students in need. With a passionate staff and continued support from peers and organizations, the FRESH Hub has a chance to end hunger here at UCI.

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