Hunger Relief Program temporarily reinstated

Cafeteria 2Two weeks into spring quarter, Bellevue College’s Hunger Relief Program was restarted. The HRP allows for students with an EBT card and BC ID to receive certain food items in the cafeteria at no cost. No funds will be deducted from the card; the card serves instead as a way for students to demonstrate they have needs. Students can receive two of either a sandwich, cup of soup or carrots and an apple.
In the summer of 2013, a pilot program of the HRP was started to allow students in need to receive a free meal, serving as many as 50 meals a day. Due to this high demand, the HRP was put on hold prior to the new year. The program was able to be reinstated from funds donated to an Indiegogo campaign started by former BC student Chris Toomey. While Toomey’s campaign did not meet its goal of $3,250, the $2,603 that was raised was used towards the program for the time being. According to Brandon Lueken, adviser to ASG, “To keep donating funds to this wasn’t [ASG’s] aim. Other student leaders thought this was a good stopgap in between getting that – addressing a need before getting another thing set up or getting another program in place, something a little more comprehensive.”
As no funds are transferred from the EBT account, the program is not self-sustaining and relies currently on the donated funds. When those funds are depleted, the program will be suspended until more funds can be raised or a new option implemented.  The current barrier to having EBT on campus is state regulation that does not allow EBT to be taken at a “food court,” defining food court by the distance between seating and point-of-sale. The difficulty in accepting EBT sales is state-wide. Both BC and Green River Community College have applied multiple times unsuccessfully.
Other options that have been raised include a food pantry, working with the College and University Food Bank Alliance, help from the student garden club, installing a student food prep area/kitchenette or setting up an on-campus soup kitchen. To change the regulations, the Office of Student Legislative Affairs intends to explore and lobby for legislative options to change the regulations to allow educational institutions in the state to accept EBT funds in campus stores/non-residence hall dining venues.
James Sanderson, a student advocate active in this issue, states, “Hungry faculty and students on campus absolutely need to come forward and raise their voice about their hunger needs and their concerns.” Sanderson and Lueken both characterized the program as needing better and more transparent communication, Sanderson elaborated on the signage regarding the HRP: “Even as active as I am in it, I was not made aware that they had restarted the program. I didn’t find out that it had started until three weeks after it had, and that was just by chance […] The only notice that it had restarted was sitting inside the cafeteria […] People who are hungry and can’t afford the food, they don’t go into the cafeteria. They don’t sit out here in the lunchroom where they can smell the food that they can’t afford, they go elsewhere. So how would anybody know?” Sanderson also raised the issue of the quality of the food offered. The sandwich options students can choose from are an Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly, stuffed ham and cheese and grilled cheese. “The food is not that nutritious […] these are sandwiches that are processed, they are frozen and thawed out. While they are better than nothing, they’re not very wholesome and nutritious.”
Lueken stated, “I guess there is no magic silver bullet for a problem like this, trying to figure out a plan that addresses the multiple dimensions of this problem. It’s like we can give out a certain amount of free food, but that’s not going to really address the systemic need about what we have, about how do we do more for education, how do we really address the need […] This is about college affordability, and we need to do our best to make sure that […] students can afford this part of [their] education.”
Students and faculty who are dealing with hunger related issues are encouraged to contact ASG and OSLA at