In March, more than 620 individual students walked into the Jag Kitchen Food Pantry to get something to eat. That same month the pantry served more than 2,180 meals, with some students attending the pantry every single day.
Waiting for them when they enter Room 554 on the Chula Vista campus, was a group of dedicated students who are committed and dedicated to doing anything they can to make sure their fellow Jaguars don’t go hungry.
The Jag Kitchen Food Pantry was spearhead by Child Development Director Patricia Bartow and Family Studies Professor Jenny Sabas and a small committee. However, Sabas said that the pantry wouldn’t be what it is today without the student workers and volunteers who staff it, help run it and make sure it’s working the best way it can.
Some student workers, who all have a food handlers license, get there at 7:30 a.m. to get everything ready for the daily breakfast bar the Jag Kitchen serves. They sort donations, they prepare food, they make coffee, they get small take-home bags ready. One of the most important things they do is greet their fellow students with a smile and create a judgment-free zone, one of the most important things to Bartow and Sabas.
“They are the reason why the Jag Kitchen is successful,” Sabas said. “They do it for no other reason than to help their fellow students. It takes a special kind of person to do the work they’re doing.”
The Jag Kitchen also gets help from employee and community volunteers and other students who help out when they can, but it’s four students that lead the pack of Jaguars who give back.
Elaine Banks, nursing major, student worker
Putting education first is difficult when you’re going hungry. That’s something Banks learned the hard way before she first walked into the Jag Kitchen. Now she works with the Jag Kitchen to make sure every student knows that they don’t have to wake up and go through the day hungry or alone.
“The students who work at the Jag Kitchen, we want to succeed but we want to see our fellow students succeed as well,” Banks said. “When you provide just a little bit of help to a student, like giving them a meal, you can see the change in their lives. It motivates them and it inspires them to just keep going a little longer.”
Joanna Fontenot, child development major, student worker
For Fontenot, one of the best parts of working at the Jag Kitchen is how she gets to help people even when she’s not at the pantry. When students in her class or around campus say they’re hungry or lacking supplies, she knows exactly where to send them.
“I choose to work at the Jag Kitchen because I have this passion for helping people,” Fontenot said. “In the future, I want to keep helping others and putting them first. The Jag Kitchen is very important to me. I love the people who come here and the purpose it has here on campus.”
Sakurako Alston, elementary education major, volunteer
Although Altson doesn’t get paid to work at the Jag Kitchen, she still shows up to volunteer her time to help her fellow students. To her, she loves being in the Jag Kitchen and helping out in any little way that she can. As a student, she feels like she can make a closer connection with her fellow students so they don’t think twice about walking in to the Jag Kitchen and asking for help.
“Most of the students who come in, they’re so thankful,” Altson said. “It puts a smile on my face to see them leave so happy. Students walk out of here less stressed out or worried because this place is here to help them with their needs.”
Andrea Muñoz, alumna, part-time employee
Muñoz has been with the Jag Kitchen since the beginning. She started off as a student worker and was integral to its development and success before she graduated Southwestern College. As an alumna, there was an opportunity for her to keep giving back to the Jag Kitchen. Although she transferred to Point Loma Nazerene University to continue studying Child Development, she’s been hired as the Jag Kitchen’s part-time employee with the Hunger-Free Initiative. Muñoz focuses on CalFresh outreach, which helps low-income students receive benefits to purchase food.
“I was once in this situation myself,” Muñoz said. “Now I’m in a position to give back to help the students and help them succeed. If you’re a student at Southwestern College and you’re going hungry, we’re here for you. We’re here to support you and help you succeed.”