By John Michael Guerrero
Riverside City Colleges’ Basic Needs Resource Center has opened a new program called the Pantry Produce Program aimed at supplying students with fresh produce.
The program is funded through the City of Riverside in partnership with the Riverside Unified School District.
Ben Vargas Jr. said the main goal of the resource center is to address food and housing insecurities.
The CalFresh Outreach Program was first introduced to California in 1977 and support for the program has grown since then. In 2021, a bill passed requiring every college campus to integrate a list of on-site and off-site basic needs services and resources.
Vargas said over 900 RCC students have been able to take advantage of the free toiletries, food and supplies. Roughly 95% of students come in for meals and food bags, which cost on average $60-$65 from vendors, according to him.
The program provides students with bi-weekly fresh produce which is supplied through a grant that allows the City of Riverside to buy from local vendors.
Amel Abdelfatah, a student wellness ambassador, witnessed the resource center grow into what it is today.
“We try to encourage students to use our resources as well, like our gas cards, Vons/Walmart cards and the produce program,” she said. “We are the last resort students come to. Some of the students that come here feel hopelessness or feeling they hit rock bottom.”
The Basic Needs Center works very closely with Student Mental Health Services as they both fall under the same department at RCC.
They work to help provide basic needs to those students, Abdelfatah said they aim to counsel and help them become more stable by providing resources.
Xander Campa, a current student at RCC, deems that this resource center is essential in relieving the stress of higher education costs.
“(The Basic Needs Resource Center) helps a lot because half of going through school is being able to focus on yourself,” Campa said. “Being able to give it your undivided attention, so when you need to cover things like food and gas, it takes the pressure off of them to provide for themselves.”
Vargas hopes to keep providing for half of the students attending RCC. He says half of the student population have expressed having housing and/or food insecurities.
“I think our college made a big commitment when they dedicated this space to basic needs,” Vargas said.
The Basic Needs Resource Center can be found on the ground floor of the Charles A. Kane Building between Student Financial Services and the Cashier Services.