Networking for hunger relief

Bellevue College has dabbled in different means to provide food to eligible students and employees on campus, but presently funding is thin and the Department of Social Health Services’ regulations surrounding the issue are prohibitive. On Sep. 24, BC will be hosting a meeting of Bellevue’s Nourishing Networks, making new connections throughout the community for assistance in ending hunger at BC.

Last fall, an experimental project was enacted by food services, utilizing their discretionary funding to offer free meals to those in possession of Electronic Benefits Transfer cards. The funding for this program was obtained through sales of Bellevue College branded coffee and sustained the program only through the fall quarter.

The program hibernated during winter while a fundraiser was held by BC alumnus Chris Toomey. With the money he raised, the hunger relief program was reinstated for the spring quarter and continues to operate. These funds are dwindling, and according to Program Coordinator Brandon Lueken, “There’s no funding in the works, there was no funding so far asked for by any particular group to continue the program as it was in spring. No one has requested funding and no administrator has approached myself or the associated student government to talk about hunger.”

BC has been incapable of processing EBT cards and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits due to restrictions given to prevent recipients from redeeming their money in legally defined food courts. The law requires a certain distance between the point of sale and seating areas. Bellevue College’s cafeteria along with those of most colleges and universities fail to meet these requirements, and so recipients are forced to go off campus for food.

According to the ASG’s Environmental and Social Responsibility Representative Lana Mack and her adviser Brandon Lueken, this issue was adopted by the legislative agendas of both the Washington Student Association and the Washington Student Association of Community and Technical Colleges last year. Lueken also stated his belief that, assuming she will be reelected in Nov., Representative Tana Senn may be an ally in seeking an exemption to this law for colleges during the upcoming legislative session. Meanwhile the Associated Student Government looks into other alternatives.

One idea put forward by Alex Clark, previous member of the ASG and head of the Sustainable Food Groups, was to create a public food pantry which has been described as “take a can, leave a can” by several of those involved. This pantry received the okay from VP of Administrative Services Ray White, but the plan was delayed when materials which had been ordered for the project arrived broken.
According to Lueken, through Dec. food services will be “building a larger expanded food prep area for the cafeteria, and originally the idea was to connect the food pantry and the food prep area.” However the plan to combine these two projects was rejected by the administration, and so the food pantry has been further delayed.

The Dean of Student Programs Faisal Jaswal invited Bellevue’s Nourishing Networks to a meeting on campus on Sep. 24 to “directly connect these community based organizations with our faculty, our students and also our student groups that are working on hunger relief.”