Essential Workers In Training Get The 3 Essentials; Food, Water and Education.

Step Up Nursing Student, Abraham Robles picks up his lunch from JAG Kitchen and SWC Cares at Higher Education Center Otay Mesa
Step Up Nursing Student, Abraham Robles picks up his lunch from JAG Kitchen and SWC Cares at Higher Education Center Otay Mesa

Returning to campus for in-person classes after 10 weeks in quarantine was stressful enough for Southwestern College first responders and nursing students, let alone thinking about traveling off campus to get lunch.

So through a partnership with Southwestern College’s Jag Kitchen Food Pantry and college cafeteria workers–who have also been in quarantine–the 187 students who returned to classes June 1 at the Higher Education Center at Otay Mesa now have access to healthy lunches Tuesday through Thursday each week.

With state Hunger-Free funds, the Jag Kitchen has been able to fund 90 – 130 healthy packed lunches for students. Students attending classes during the day and evening have been able to choose from a variety of sandwiches. Each lunch also includes fruit, healthy snacks, such as a granola bar, string cheese and trail mix, and water. Because there is no cafeteria at the Otay Mesa campus, students bring a lunch or travel to local businesses off-site to get food.

It has been a relief to many students. According to the San Diego Hunger Coalition, an estimated 443,000 (1 in 7) people in San Diego experienced food insecurity in 2017. With COVID-19, financial insecurity has been a huge problem for many college students as many were furloughed or laid off from their jobs.

Southwestern College paramedic, EMT, fire science and nursing students were able to return to in-person classes June 1 through a state order that allowed colleges and universities training “students who will serve as essential workers.” 

EMT student Jane Hernandez says she is so thankful for the food because of their tiring schedules. 

“Once we were on campus, we have three different modules that we need to take and that is preparing us for an exam that we will take in July or August,” Hernandez said. “It has been really hard because normally we would take the exam in April or May, so it’s really hot now. We do work in healthcare. We are needed. We were needed before and we will be needed after this is over (COVID). The food that they provide is just as essential for us to function.”  

Students were anxious to get back, as they need to perform a certain amount of clinicals and/or hands-on lab hours to complete their program. While it was a relief for SWC students to continue their programs, Dean Silvia Cornejo explained there was a lot to think about before staff and students could return to campus safely. 

“All of those programs came to a stop,” Cornejo said. “We were able to do the lectures remotely, but the labs needed to be done on campus. 

“For months we worked on safety protocols, came up with procedures and training to teach our staff and students how to return on campus safely,” Cornejo added. “This included PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), but a big part was food. Our students are here for long hours, almost all day, and we wanted to come up with a way to support our students and prevent exposure.”  

Cornejo worked with Food Services, SWC Cares–the umbrella over the Jag Kitchen–and district administrators to make this effort an extension of the Jag Kitchen. Students are on campus Monday through Saturday and food is delivered three days a week for the day and evening students. There has been enough food to feed all students who wanted meals.

Claudia Acosta, Southwestern’s Interim Food Services Operations Supervisor, was excited to bring back her employees for this effort.

“We are here three days a week and everyone is so supportive,” Acosta said. “Even though we are living through a pandemic, one way or another this was going to get done. 

“We all were eager to get back to work and help,” she said. “All of us have been depressed and sad, but this gave us a purpose again. I was excited to get back to work.”