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Editorial: NWWNC grant to UCLA food closet warrants concern over university’s lack of support

By Editorial Board

October 13, 2019 11:47 pm

Sometimes, community support just isn’t enough.

And when it comes to student well-being, you would hope it would be an added bonus – not a main source of funding.

At the beginning of the month, the North Westwood Neighborhood Council unanimously voted to renew a $5,000 grant for the UCLA Community Programs Office food closet, which offers canned goods, produce, bread and hygiene products for anyone in need. Also on the agenda?

Telling UCLA to get its act together.

With a budget of about $40,000 comprised largely of donations, the CPO largely relies on the generosity of the UCLA community for its continued ability to feed students, rather than the institution it helps to support. Fortunately, both the NWWNC and the Westwood Neighborhood Council have donated to the food closet. But their donations come with a clear message – they shouldn’t be the only ones doing this.

Let’s be clear – when a neighborhood council is more effective at supporting low-income and food-insecure students than the students’ own university is, that’s cause for concern.

The CPO food closet was founded 10 years ago during the economic recession and is vital in making UCLA more accessible for students of low socioeconomic status – especially as Westwood continues to be one of the most expensive ZIP codes in the country.

But the program is feeling the effects of a longtime lack of support.

A major goal of the closet is providing groceries, though it may be more common to see snack foods than fresh produce. This is largely budgetary and due to the high demand for fresh produce from hungry students who line up at the door before it opens early in the morning.

But with the proportions of a closet come inherent problems with space.

This leads to a vicious cycle that can all be traced back to a lack of funding – the closet is too small to sustain fresh produce, but lacks the funds to expand. And in a location as central as the Student Activities Center, the stigma surrounding food insecurity can affect whether students decide to go at all.

If the CPO was able to find a larger space, with more supplies and better outreach, then many of these concerns could be alleviated. But the office can’t do it alone – that’s up to the university.

In UCLA’s defense, it does support the CPO with food donations from time to time. UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services donated 2,500 pounds of food to the closet in the 2017-2018 academic year, and UCLA has no problem including information about the program on a number of different official web pages.

But just a few donations and some links on how alumni can give more to the school isn’t good enough. More frequent donations and integrated support will go toward fixing systemic issues with the location, space and sustainability of the program.

UCLA has a responsibility to its food-insecure students – and it shouldn’t take blatant nudging from the NWWNC for it to realize that.

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