Sunday, February 23

Food closet program helps students dealing with hunger

Community Programs Office's distribution service was created by UCLA student to help community

For some students, passing the next midterm is the least of their worries.

Juggling several jobs, many Bruins work to sustain their families in addition to being full-time students, and oftentimes as they come home from work, they are uncertain where their next meal will come from.

When fourth-year civil engineering student Abdallah Jadallah noticed the problem of hunger on campus a year ago, he launched the food closet program under the UCLA Community Programs Office. The food closet, now in its second year of operation, collects donations from students and faculty and offers the supply of food to students who have difficulty feeding themselves.

According to Jadallah, the idea of starting a program under the CPO came naturally, as his involvement with Mentors for Academic and Peer Support brought him in contact with CPO Director Antonio Sandoval. The former president of the Muslim Student Association, Jadallah said that his religious role models inspired him to create the program.

“My religion is Islam, and we talk about role models, like Jesus and Muhammad,” Jadallah said. “I realized the things that they had in common was that they cared about the community, and I knew that I couldn’t go to sleep knowing that my community was hungry.”

While there are several initiatives to prevent hunger in the Los Angeles area, the food closet is the only program specifically geared toward UCLA students.

“Serving the campus is the most important purpose,” Jadallah said. “The (Muslim Student Association) already has a program to go to Skid Row and donate food, and there are lots of other campus organizations that focus outside of UCLA. But no one ever talks about the hungry at UCLA, and no one really takes care of them.”

The CPO is also working to extend its aid to as many students as possible, said Thuy Huynh, CPO spokeswoman.

“In a recession especially, students have to be the breadwinners for their families, and some students have to pick up two or three jobs and only eat one meal a day because they’re trying to save,” she said. “The Peer Counseling program at the CPO is one of the main ways that we can get students to know about our food closet.”

In order to maintain its supply, the food closet relies on the efforts of students and staff, Huynh said. While it originally ran on donations by academic departments, the food closet now works with various other organizations, including the Undergraduate Students Association Council and the Office of Residential Life.

“We need to replenish the closet every week,” Huynh said. “Something interesting about the food closet is the creativity that it’s bringing out in those who are putting on drives. For example, one of the RAs in De Neve Plaza worked with us to go trick-or-treating for canned food instead of candy, and then donating it to the food closet.”

As the food closet enters its second year, administrators hope to increase its influence as well as its efficiency, Jadallah said.

“I’m really happy with it right now,” Jadallah said. “We’re getting a lot more food than expected, and a lot of people are taking advantage of it. I didn’t expect it to move so fast, but it moved beyond expectations. But I am not going to just sit here and be satisfied; I’m going to keep moving further and making it bigger.”

Though the food closet is still relatively small-scale, it is an important asset to the campus, Sandoval said.

“I don’t think (hunger) is an overwhelming problem on this campus, but it’s significant in terms of need,” Sandoval said. “We need to make sure our students are taken care of, we need to ensure well-being as much as we can ““ it’s our responsibility as a university.”

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