DVC Food Pantry Provides Critical Support to Students During COVID-19


Photo courtesy of Salvation Army on Flickr.

Cheasanee Hetherington, Editor-in-chief

As Contra Costa County backslides into another shelter-in-place mandate, the Diablo Valley College Food Pantry is continuing to aid students by providing groceries and redirecting them to helpful community resources.

The first step towards seeking food assistance may be the most difficult one that students take, according to Todd Farr, DVC’s student life manager, and Dietra Prater-Slack, the college’s food pantry program assistant.

In the process, faculty often play an important role encouraging students to seek the pantry for food aid.

“We ask a lot of students when they come into the pantry how they found out, and many are saying their professor told them,” said Farr in an interview with The Inquirer.

Prater-Slack agreed that DVC teachers play a critical role informing students of their options. “I think faculty are the first line of support. Students are often more comfortable telling a faculty member that they’re having problems,” Prater-Slack said.

“Once they come into the pantry and realize it’s okay, they’re much more likely to come back. But it’s taking that first step.”

This semester, the pantry has partnered with DVC’s culinary program to provide a quality range of freshly prepared meals. The program and pantry distributed 38 Thanksgiving meals last month, each large enough to feed a family of 10.

“We’ve been working with [the culinary program] since the fall and it has been extremely successful,” said Farr.

The pantry has served more than 600 students since 2019, and will continue aiding financially struggling students during the coming semester. The California Association of Food Banks reports that 11.6 million residents face food insecurity, despite 41 affiliated food banks operating across the state.

Prater-Slack said she understands how much relief a prepared meal can bring to students in need. During her own college days, she recalled how her family would cook for her while she focused on her studies.

“I didn’t have to think about cooking during finals,” Prater-Slack said. “It helped me to appreciate what the cooked meals are providing for our students.”

In addition to fresh meals, the program also distributes pre-packed grocery bags. The portions are generous and provide a variety of foods for a well-balanced diet.

“The bags that we give out are so comprehensive. It’s full to the top, and probably has enough food for a week and a half for two to four people,” she added. 

The pantry offers specialty options for people with larger families or dietary restrictions. A family-sized bag option contains larger quantities with enough food to support a student and their household. A vegetarian option substitutes animal product-based goods with options like dried lentils, beans and vegetarian soup.

Although the culinary program stopped offering fresh meals as of Dec. 4, the pantry is still operational. Availability will be limited over the winter break, with specific dates and times visible on the DVC Food Pantry website. The pantry will provide larger bags with more substantial contents on available pick-up days.

Despite the numerous options to acquire free food, for many students, acknowledging that they need help with meals can be a difficult hurdle. Yet with state unemployment rates soaring to 9% due to the pandemic, receiving aid may be critical to their survival.

“Anyone that has to go to a food pantry, we understand we want to be very sensitive. It’s not an easy thing for a person to do,” said Farr. “We give them what they need, and all we ask is that they show their student ID.”

Actively enrolled students can have their identification card created at the Student Union Center on campus. The Student Union Center will close Dec. 11 and reopen Jan. 27.

Organizers of the pantry know that student needs extend beyond groceries, and actively seek to connect students with additional resources.

“If we can’t help them here, we refer them to somebody who can help them,” added Farr. “It’s a team project and everyone is working together.”

“The current circumstances with COVID-19 has had a major impact on everyone in some way. I think we all need to recognize that, and be supportive of one another through this.”

If students require additional aid over break they are encouraged to contact the food pantry’s partner organization, Monument Crisis Center, which helps provide contents for the pre-packed grocery bags. Additionally, Food Banks of Contra Costa can connect enrollees and their family to the closest local pantry or soup kitchen.