COD and FindFood Bank partner to help students facing food insecurity


Photo courtesy of Cindy Chavez. Student David Perez shops through the Indio campus market shelves, full of cans, nonperishables, produce and snacks.

Starting the 2022-23 academic year, College of the Desert implemented food markets in their Palm Desert and Indio campuses with the help of FindFood Bank as a food supplier and fellows from the College Crops program, becoming a part of the newest solution to the food insecurity problem endured by primarily nontraditional students.

Food insecurity is a long-existing issue faced by many demographics within the Coachella Valley. So, when the College committed students to join the College Corps to help aid the problem alongside FindFood Bank, the college markets were set to serve COD students indefinitely since September, four days a week.

The markets/pantries are the results of the collaboration between the state and FindFood Bank. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday implemented a new program, the College Corps, in which students pledge a year-long commitment to serve their community in the sector of their choice. COD received fellow applications in the summer term and chose 50 out of 200 applicants. They also chose the focus that best suited the need here in the Valley: Food insecurity.

Photo courtesy of Cindy Chavez. David Perez and Maria Felix, College Corps Fellow and first-year student, chat a bit while checking out his bags.

The fellows of the College Corps have become familiar with FindFood Bank employees and the non-profit as a whole as they join every Friday to receive new stock like perishable items, cold drinks, snacks, and household products. The Palm Desert campus market/central pantry is open from Monday – Thursday from 8:30 a.m until  4:30 p.m every week.

These campus markets can help alieve the impacts of living in food deserts for many COD students. Parts of the Coachella Valley contain food deserts, meaning areas where communities do not have equal access to fresh, affordable or different varieties of food. Overall, statistics from the Health Assessment and Research for Communities demonstrate adult food insecurity in the Coachella Valley tends to increase among young adults, more so if they are on the poverty line.

Lisbeth Hurtado-Vizcarra, the Outreach Specialist for the Basic Needs Center, believes in COD’s partnerships, “As a college community, we are raising awareness that these issues still exist. They exist within our classrooms.” By looking at students as people with more than grades to worry about, Hurtado-Vizcarra believes communities are devoid of a solid solution for this specific group. College students are considered a substantial demographic within the poverty line.

In a 2013 study by the US Census, 15.4% of the population was on the line. The rate of students in the study living independently or on campus was 52%. The COVID-19 pandemic did not help the situation as many students faced forced relocation and restricted access to university resources that existed before, such as pantries and meal plans. The college SNAP rule restricts new college students from substantial aid makes this worse as there is the pre-assumption that these students are financially dependent on their guardians — which could not be farther from the truth for many nontraditional college students.

Nontraditional students, many at COD, have to balance full and part-time jobs, school work, dependents, sustaining financial independence and other personal responsibilities. Around 73% of college students fit into one of the criteria of the nontraditional college student experience. The College Corps acknowledges this reality and will reward fellows with stipends throughout the year and an education grant at the end of their 450-hour requirement.

Photo courtesy of Cindy Chavez. Student David Perez looking through the fresh produce section.

The financial help and goal of the Corps boil down to Hurtado-Vizcarra’s view of the program to have more leaders within communities, address debt, and for students, it helps them stay for college. College Corps fellow Marilyn Luevano is grateful for the stipends and grant, one of the many reasons she applied to the program. As a student desiring to gain more volunteering experience, specifically opportunities that can directly impact her community, Luevano is excited to provide a safe space for those experiencing food insecurity. She hopes the market, “Makes them feel more secure knowing that they can come in and grab some food or a snack.” She said the act causes a ripple effect as it provides a sense of giving back to others while creating a feeling of community within the fellows.

Casandra Estrada, is also a fellow with a visual disability, she feels like having a regular job is not an option. The program gives her an experience of what that might be, helping improve her college life. She believes there’s more to community college life than homework and the commute back home. The fellowship’s impact is precisely what was needed in her routine. Estrada believes the real-life benefits of the market are palpable, “These people take some things to get them through a few days, as a way for their survival for the week.”

COD’s Indio pantry/market recently opened with an inauguration ceremony on Nov. 1, 2022.