Contributed by Taylor Chalstrom
Access to affordable and healthy food options on college campuses is a rising issue across the nation. Food scarcity, or the inability to purchase enough food and/or healthier food options is also increasingly an important problem at Cal Poly and Cuesta College in recent years.
The San Luis Obispo County Chronic Disease and Health Behavior team, along the Department of Public Health, recognized this issue back in 2018 during the development of the County Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). SLO County called for individuals who study health and food science locally to create plans to address food security in the county. The goal is to increase community enrollment in CalFresh, a benefit program that helps low income individuals purchase nutritious food options.
A priority of the plan is to “continue the CalFresh Outreach grant to increase student enrollment in CalFresh at Cuesta College and Cal Poly.” The improvement target was set to enroll at least 150 students per year in CalFresh by 2022.
Haley Wintsch, a CalFresh Outreach worker, expanded on the progress that has been made so far.
“Last year we definitely surpassed that goal,” Wintsch said. “Our connections and number of interactions with students have greatly increased since the start of the plan. Now that we're more established, we hope that things will ramp up even more. We will definitely be meeting that consistent goal by 2022.”
Wintsch said that close to 25% of students were experiencing food insecurity back in 2017 before the CHIP existed. Since the programs creation, the grant that the SLO CalFresh Alliance received has helped to decrease this percentage as well as expand the amount of workers for CalFresh who educate about food insecurity.
“I’ve educated many people at Cal Poly through private appointments, public table events on campus and club presentations to make sure that students know about CalFresh,” Wintsch said. “Whether a student is eligible for the program or not, we always direct everyone to the appropriate resource.” Other appropriate resources might include the SLO food bank, Cal Poly Food Pantry, or meal vouchers.
The program is hopeful that as more students become familiar with CalFresh, the problem of food insecurity will continue to decrease and more students will have access to healthy food.
To learn more about CalFresh and its Outreach program, visit www.calfresh.ca.gov.