Kicking Off a Season of Thanks

Employee Andrea Cletus holds a cooked turkey breast to give away as part of Thanksgiving meal distribution
Employee Andrea Cletus holds a cooked turkey breast to give away as part of the Thanksgiving meal distribution.

Southwestern College volunteers capped off a week’s worth of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week activities Friday with a drive-through distribution of Thanksgiving-themed meal boxes for students.

Up to 1,000 boxes were expected to be distributed and delivered from Friday until Wednesday to the students who registered for the meals.

College officials created the program because of the growing number of students and families facing food insecurity. According to the latest research by the San Diego Hunger Coalition, an estimated 443,000 (one in seven) people in San Diego experience food insecurity. This number is projected to rise in the next report due to the record high 9.5 percent unemployment rate due to COVID-19.

Through the Jag Kitchen, the offices of Student Services, Student Equity Programs and Services and Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, Southwestern College has distributed food and grocery cards to students. With all campuses closed since March because of COVID-19, college leaders were looking for new ways to reach students.

“There was an additional desire of the college’s cafeteria employees to continue engaging in the meaningful work of serving students,” said Marquise Jackson, interim director of Campus Enterprise Services.

Enter the idea of take-home meals and grocery boxes.

From now until the spring semester, students will be able to order grocery boxes through the college cafeteria. The new food distribution method is possible because of a new provision in Assembly Bill 2884 that allows colleges to use a portion of lottery funds to address student economic insecurities, such as food and housing.

Approximately $100,000 has been set aside for the program. Students will be able to sign up for future grocery box distribution on the SWC Cares webpage,

For the first grocery box distribution, college leaders created a Thanksgiving-themed box. It included a three- to four-pound cooked turkey breast, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, green beans, dinner rolls and a pumpkin pie for dessert.

Cafeteria employees Julie Hatz, Nancy Ethington and Interim Food Services Operations Supervisor Claudia Acosta worked eight hours a day for more than a week assembling the boxes.

“First, it was 900 boxes of stuffing, which we purchased at the Ralphs across the street,” Acosta said, adding the team worked steadily until all the packages were assembled.

“This is very rewarding, and we’re still providing food for students at the Otay Mesa campus,”  Acosta said. “To us this is an awesome opportunity to work and to help the students. These women (Julie and Nancy) worked so hard. To me, they are the heroes.”

Distributing the meals on Friday also fed the souls of those volunteering Friday.

“Volunteering at these events is one of the ways to motivate me to continue working remotely,” said Tabitha Ibarra, a secretary who works in Admissions and Records. “The students are always so appreciative. I just love watching their faces light up. And seeing your coworkers all pumped up… you know they have the same attitude of helping students.”

The food was a welcome relief for students.

“This means one less meal I have to spend money on,” said Cynthia Flores, a second-year nursing student with three children. “I’m in the nursing program, so I can’t work full hours. This is more special because it is gifted to us.”

Juan Cardona, a computer science major graduating in spring, said this was the first time he applied for the assistance.

“All the help we can get is welcome,” Cardona said. “Jobs are getting cut and it’s hard to find help. The most support we get is from our school.”

Additional food distributions will take place for students who registered in advance. The Higher Education Center at San Ysidro has a distribution on Monday, Nov. 23, the Higher Education Centers at Otay Mesa and National City have distributions on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Students who registered for meals and did not have transportation will have their boxes delivered to their homes by college volunteers.