Hunger Relief Program terminated

HungerThumbThe Hunger Relief Program will be ending its services at the end of the quarter, Bellevue College officials have announced. Since its inception over the summer, the program has grown to serve an average of 47 students per day. However, due to a demand that exceeded expectations for the program, the available resources originally allocated to fund the pilot program have been used up, leaving it unable to operate following winter break. To date, funding for the program has come from the Food Services’ budget and has cost just over $2,500 according to Director of Food Services Todd Juvrud.

The need for the program was established following several failed attempts by BC to secure an EBT Food Assistance terminal on campus prior to the summer of 2013. In the absence of such a terminal, which is necessary for any person on food stamps to purchase food, the Hunger Relief Program provided access to limited food options for BC students and employee who were otherwise unable to purchase food on campus with their EBT Food Assistance benefits.

Based on the 2012 population census for King County and figures from an Oct. 30, 2013 report from the Department of Social and Health Services, 12 percent of the King County population receives EBT Food Assistance benefits. This would suggest that as many as 2300 BC students and 177 BC employees are currently on food stamps. 10.6 percent are expected to be of Hispanic origin, 29.49 percent White, 17.06 percent Black/African American, 10.74 percent Asian and 1.44 percent American Indian or Alaskan Native. Additionally, 35.29 percent of EBT Food Assistance recipients in King County are under the age of 18, while 55.7 percent are between the ages of 18 and 64.

Over the course of the last year, the Associated Student Government has recognized hunger relief on campus as a pressing student issue. However, after reviewing several funding scenarios, the ASG has, at this time, chosen not to fund the Hunger Relief Program. ASG President Zawdie Terry has cited concerns over the sustainability of the program as well as concerns over what may be deemed as a questionable or possibly illegal use of student funds as reasons behind the ASG’s decision.

“It’s not a sustainable program … initially what student government was looking for was something a little more sustainable,” said Terry, pointing to the possibility of establishing a student-run convenience store on campus. It has been speculated that a student-run convenience store may be one way to qualify BC for an EBT terminal on its campus.

The ASG has been in correspondence with the Department of Social and Health Services in order to bring a representative to BC for consultation. Terry has promised a DSHS official will visit the school by the end of January.

In regards to ASG’s decision nit to fund the program, ASG Environmental and Social Responsibility Representative Alex Clark stated in an email: “[The Hunger Relief Program] is not a sustainable, or wise use of student fees … The program only provides limited choices for students currently enrolled in the EBT program. There are hungry students not enrolled in EBT that we wish to serve … We would rather put student money towards longer lasting, more equitable programs that educate about food sustainability.”

Clark is currently partnering with “dedicated faculty members” in order to establish an on-campus food bank or pantry. It has been suggested that this would be coupled with storage units for students to use as well as a food preparation area in or near the cafeteria. However these plans are still in development and will not be implemented in winter quarter.

The absence of the program in the winter as well as the lack of communication in regards to BC’s plans to discontinue the program has raised alarm among some students. Students returning winter quarter may not be aware of the program’s termination and could encounter potentially humiliating incidents while trying to access the program. “It would be wise to get the word out to people,” said student James Sanderson, adding “that [it] will be a humiliating experience to find out that news when somebody … has their soup and their sandwich and is standing at the register with a line full of people when the cashier announces, ‘Sorry we’re not doing this anymore.’ There they are standing naked before the world feeling humiliated.”

“I hope they don’t cancel the program, I hope they reconsider,” said Sanderson.

BC President Dr. David Rule stated he had not yet been made aware of the decision to discontinue the Hunger Relief Program. Additionally he stated he had not yet been approached about the possibility of further funding the program through his office, but added he is open to entertaining a proposal for a “one-time contingency” funding request should he be approached.

In the meantime, Food Services is currently working in correspondence with Green River Community College to update the point-of-sale system at BC in order to accept EBT Cash Assistance purchases by mid-February. Different from EBT Food Assistance, EBT Cash Assistance has in the past been commonly referred to as “welfare” and follows a separate set of qualification guidelines as a recipient or vendor. Figures suggest that as many as 430 BC students and 33 BC employees are currently EBT Cash Assistance recipients.