A local neighborhood council urged UCLA to do more to fund its food closet as the council approved a grant for the program.
The North Westwood Neighborhood Council unanimously renewed a $5,000 community purpose grant at their meeting Oct. 2 for the Community Programs Office food closet. Though council members such as treasurer Amir Tarighat said they supported the food closet, they said UCLA needed to fulfill the needs of the food closet.
“I do support funding this neighborhood purpose grant,” Tarighat said. “I want to be clear that it’s absolutely horrible that we, (a) city of Los Angeles neighborhood council, have to contribute to this funding.”
The grant is a continuation of one approved last year by the council and will be used to purchase food items to replenish the closet, basic needs manager Chidera Izuchukwu said at the meeting.
The CPO food closet is a pantry offering free bread, canned foods, fresh produce and hygiene products to any student in need. It is located in the Student Activities Center and was founded in 2009 during the Great Recession when many students struggled to make ends meet.
Izuchukwu said the food closet typically has about $40,000 to spend a year and most of that budget is funded through donations. About $10,000 is funded by the state government — however, most state support goes toward helping students find jobs, she added.
The council deliberated whether to donate to the food closet at the meeting. One concern was the processing fee. Some council members were troubled by a 6.5% administrative fee which would go to the UCLA Foundation, an organization that raises money for the university, because of a processing fee. Michael Skiles, president of the NWWNC, said the fee didn’t feel too outrageous to him because the UCLA Foundation has operating costs to meet.
“Raising money costs money, and unfortunately, almost nobody ever says let me write a check to support UCLA fund development operations,” Skiles said. “That’s the least fun thing to donate to.”
Councilmember Mara Braciszewski, a graduate student for urban design and urban regional planning, said she often sees snack items in the food pantry and wishes there were more fresh food options, especially for graduate students.
“Every time I go there, I see more snack items,” Braciszewski said. “So sugary, carbohydrate snack items, cookies and crackers and … sometimes mac and cheese.”
Izuchukwu said fresh food items are stocked every day but are the first to be picked up. She added there is not enough space to meet demand.
“I’m trying my best,” Izuchukwu said. “There is very high demand. Even when restocking, there is already a line forming.”
There are plans to expand the food closet. However, Izuchukwu said she is meeting with UCLA Facilities Management and architects to work out the feasibility of the physical expansion.
The grocery bundle program, which offers a specialized bag of food items for graduate students, will be improved by including refrigerated lockers, Izuchukwu said. There will also be quicker restock of items in a larger space, she added.
“We’re supposed to meet again with the architects to see the lay of the land,” Izuchukwu said. “The building that we’re actually in is for the most part historic, so it’s hard to build things out.”
Plans for the expansion are not finalized and must go through university bureaucracy. Izuchukwu said she hopes she is still working at CPO by the time the expansion is completed.