Cal Lutheran is taking care of its own by ensuring that students don’t go a day without a full stomach.
It’s all part of the university’s Community Cupboard initiative, where students who are facing food insecurities or are low on money can grab items, such as nonperishable food, toiletries and $10 or $20 gift cards for perishable food items at grocery stores. The cupboard is located at Cal Lutheran’s Samuelson Chapel lounge.
Community Cupboard was established by Cal Lutheran’s Campus Ministry in 2012 when an undergraduate student became a single mother and was struggling to buy food after covering her miscellaneous expenses.
“Community Cupboard was created to fill in a gap that prevents our students from focusing on their studies, to help find their purpose and achieve the best of their abilities,” says Elizabeth Lohr-Myers, administrative assistant for Cal Lutheran’s Campus Ministry.
Lohr-Myers says several dozen students utilize the cupboard on a regular basis, which can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
“The lounge has an exterior door that allows students to come and go unnoticed if they wish,” says Lohr-Myers. “This is extremely important on this campus because it is viewed as so prosperous and where the stigma and shame attached to being in need is very high.”
Sign-in sheets and ID checks are not required, as Campus Ministry trusts students will only take what they need. Papers are also posted on the cupboard doors where students can write requests for desired items or say thank you to those who donated.
“A motto that has been adopted for the Community Cupboard is ‘Come as you are, take what you need,’” says Lohr-Myers. “This reflects the open and welcoming policy that we in Campus Ministry and at Cal Lutheran embrace.”
According to a 2016 study conducted by Students Against Hunger and Homelessness, 20% of students attending university face food insecurities. Lohr-Myers says a couple of the students she has met include one who was living in her vehicle because of family problems and was cut off, while another student was an athlete who ate one meal a day with his family and continued the rest of the day without food.
“This isn’t too surprising when you think about the high cost of tuition and books and the fact that more low-income students are enrolling in college,” says Lohr-Myers. “One quarter of students also pay for college themselves without help from parents, guardians or friends. Food becomes the last priority when utilities and rent also need to be paid for.”
Members of the community also donate to the cupboard, such as the Conejo Compassion Coalition, a local nonprofit that helps with poverty relief and development work around the world. The group has been involved with Community Cupboard since August.
“It’s a way of us reaching out to local people in need because our focus has been worldwide,” says Robert Bland, chief executive officer of CCC. “This is a need that exists right in our own community and we are pleased to have the opportunity to reach out in our own community and be of help to them.”
Lohr-Myers says until this semester, the needs of the Community Cupboard had been met by Cal Lutheran staff, faculty and other community members who are connected to the university. Monetary donations are also used to provide students with meal plans to eat in the university’s cafeteria, while staff, faculty or students find ways to share with new incoming students about the cupboard, share their lunch or treat a student to lunch in the cafeteria, and generate donations from campus events.
“We are doing a better job at spreading the word about the cupboard and at keeping it stocked,” says Lohr-Myers. “All of the students that use the Community Cupboard are so humble and grateful for that assistance. The cupboard makes them feel loved and supported and that they don’t need to be afraid to reach out or admit when they need help.”
To donate to Community Cupboard, items can be dropped off between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at Samuelson Chapel on the Cal Lutheran campus, 68-154 W. Olsen Road, in Thousand Oaks.