April 24, 2020

Besides the empty Quad, the switch to all virtual instruction and the daily Zoom meetings, COVID-19’s effects on Stan State students as they pursue their educational goals are more than inconvenient.

In some cases, some students are struggling to find food and other basic essentials.

Responding to the crisis, students, faculty, staff and the community are rallying with financial support.

Stan State Associated Students, Inc., donated $10,000 to the Student Emergency Fund, which is a part of the Stan State California Faculty Association Campus Cares initiative, a program that also supports the Food Insecurities Fund, including the Warrior Food Pantry.

Wells Fargo donated $30,000, with $15,000 earmarked for the Student Emergency Fund and the other $15,000 for the Food Insecurities Fund.

California State University, Stanislaus Foundation Board member Bob Triebsch donated $5,000 to the Student Emergency Fund, and Willie’s Pizza & Wings in Turlock is donating a portion of its proceeds raised on Tuesday, April 21, to the Warrior Food Pantry.

“It is incredibly inspiring to see so many segments of the campus and greater community step up to aid our students during this crisis,” said Stan State President Ellen Junn. “To see students helping students with the ASI donation is heartwarming as is seeing the support of individual University supporters and local businesses. These gifts demonstrate the value of Stan State to the community and speak to the partnerships that exist between the University and the region.”

Meeting the basic needs of students is essential as they continue their pursuit of higher education, and the number of students requiring assistance is rising.

Requests for assistance from the Student Emergency Fund have increased 138 percent so far this semester in comparison to requests from fall 2019.

During last week’s food box distribution — which has transitioned to drive-through pick-up — 48 students received boxes and another 70 students visited the Warrior Food Pantry, according to Jennifer Sturtevant, care manager of the program. The number of total visits to the Warrior Food Pantry at this point in the spring semester — 2,720 since January —already surpasses the number of visits recorded last spring.

Food insecurity at Stan State was an issue before the COVID-19 crisis struck, with the Basic Needs Program reporting nearly 42 percent of students have experienced food insecurity.

It’s why the Warrior Food Pantry was established in the first place.

“At the first event introducing Ellen Junn as president, I took her aside and told her about one of my students handing out groceries from the back of his car in Parking Lot 5,” said Ann Strahm, professor of sociology, referring to Iraq veteran and Stan State student Nathan Romo, who would hustle donations from local stores and pack bags for about 20 students at a time. “It was shameful that we were one of the poorest universities in the CSU system, and we didn’t even have anything that remotely looked like a pantry.”

Strahm got a phone call the very next day, and work on a food pantry began.

She credits the leadership of Sturtevant, a more permanent location in the Student Services Building and better publicity with increasing its visibility.

The numbers bear that out.

Warrior Food Pantry visits rose from 337 in September 2018 to 1,481 in September 2019. There have been more than 8,200 visits to the Warrior Food Pantry since the start of the 2019-2020 academic year. Already more than double the previous year.

By March 24 of this year, 1,228 food boxes had been distributed during the 2019-2020 academic year. During the last distribution in the Quad, on March 18, the 100 available boxes of food were gone within two hours.

The need has only grown during the COVID-19 crisis as some students, their parents and other family members lose their jobs.

Strahm’s passion for addressing student hunger stems from her own childhood of poverty, when her “single mother worked two jobs and didn’t have two nickels to rub together” and from gratefully receiving food stamps to help her as an undergraduate student at the University of Oregon.

Her work didn’t stop at getting the Warrior Food Pantry started.

She continues to volunteer when boxes are distributed, and she frequently checks-in with her students to ensure they have access to basic needs — critical to their ability to focus and succeed academically. Recently, before one of her classes, she learned one of them was in a crisis.

The student, who had moved back home as a result of the stay-at-home order and transition to remote classes, was struggling to access food resources and the Warrior Food Pantry was out of reach.

Strahm reached out to Sturtevant, and they were able to connect the student, and the student’s family, to resources near their home. Even though we are apart, finding ways to help each other as a Warrior Family remains paramount to the entire Stan State community.

To that end, a crowdfunding initiative has been launched to support students facing a crisis or in need of basic necessities.

Visit the #WarriorStrong crowdfunding webpage to learn how you can join our community of supporters helping students during this critical time.