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The Cougar Pantry, created in 2017, has since expanded to a larger space near the university's bookstore. Photo courtesy of CSUSM
The Cougar Pantry, created in 2017, has since expanded to a larger space near the university's bookstore. Photo courtesy of CSUSM
CitiesNewsRegionSan DiegoSan Marcos

Cal State San Marcos opens expanded food pantry for students in need

SAN MARCOS — Cal State San Marcos held a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 18, for its expanded food pantry, which serves university students who are experiencing food insecurity.

The Cougar Pantry was founded in 2017 after a campus survey revealed that more than half of CSUSM students are affected by food insecurity. Operated by Associated Students, Inc. (ASI), the pantry has now moved into a 1,200-square-foot space, which is six times bigger than the original pantry.

“Students had indicated some level of food insecurity, whether they were skipping meals to make their budget last or they were running out of money or they were eating less food in order to spread out the food resources that they had, so some level of food insecurity, whether it was high food insecurity or low food insecurity, and that gave us an indication that they were struggling in that capacity,” said Ashley Fennell, associate director of government affairs and initiatives in ASI.

According to the university, ASI Cougar Pantry serves an average of 250-300 students per week and is run by a team of more than a dozen professional staff, students and interns.

“We felt we needed to address that need on campus because it’s hard for students to graduate and focus on school, focus on their academics and be successful in that way if they’re struggling to meet their basic needs, which food is one of them,” Fennell said.

The ASI Cougar Pantry offers a variety of food options, both nonperishable and refrigerated. The food is supplied by community partners like the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego, and the pantry also receives donations from local grocery stores such as Albertsons, Ralphs and Sprouts.

Fennell added that the larger space will now allow them to expand their services to include a CalFresh enrollment office, more storage room, an office for the coordinator and more.

“We are also able to add in additional resources for students like additional toiletries, school supplies, parenting supplies, such as diapers, wipes and baby formula, which I think has been great to support our student parents on campus, which we didn’t really have the capacity for before, so I think that’s been a great addition with expanding the space,” Fennell said.

Funding for the expanded ASI Cougar Pantry came via a grant from the California State University Basic Needs Initiative as well as ASI reserve funds.

Shoppers must be currently enrolled CSUSM students and can visit the space once a week.

“If students are worried about meeting their basic needs, then they most likely will not be able to focus on their studies and complete their path to graduation,” said Alondra Gutierrez, ASI Cougar Pantry coordinator. “We are here to help ease those concerns and support their holistic wellness so they can focus on just being a student and a human.”