Southwestern College Expands Basic Needs Support for Students

A person handing out free meals during a drive-up event.
Andre Harris, San Ysidro center supervisor, distributes free Thanksgiving meals to Southwestern College students.

Southwestern College is expanding its basic needs support for students at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many inequities and insecurities affecting students and their success. Under the umbrella of SWC Cares and a new basic needs coordinator, Southwestern College is strengthening its commitment to provide resources, including food, housing and technology needs, to support student success and wellbeing. 

Southwestern College’s basic needs support includes the Jag Kitchen Food Pantry, which has now been converted to Jag Kitchen To-Go and provides drive-up food distribution to Southwestern College students. This semester Southwestern College is addressing housing insecurities head-on by connecting students with housing nonprofits in the community and funding motel vouchers for specific situations. Since the start of the pandemic, Southwestern College’s CONNECTS Technology Loan program has provided 260 laptops and wifi hotspots for students who need them to access the internet for online learning. Southwestern College’s basic needs support one-time emergency grants, grocery and gas gift cards, textbook vouchers and more.

Accessing resources starts with filling out the Basic Needs Request Form on the SWC Cares website and meeting Trina Eros, Southwestern College’s new basic needs coordinator. Eros has worked for years in the community providing services for people in need, including at-risk youth. At Southwestern College, she wants to use basic needs to provide full support for students so that they are empowered to meet their academic goals. 

“We are strengthening the response to students whose basic needs are not met,” Eros said. “We don’t want students being directed all over campus. We’re trying to make this effort more responsive and more effective, all while being off-campus.”

Eros is taking a counseling and holistic approach to addressing students’ basic needs. Eros will be meeting with students one-on-one when they request certain basic needs support to better understand the larger picture of a students’ needs and become more individually responsive. As of February, Eros has met with more than 80 students for individual appointments and received more than 300 basic needs requests. 

“If you’re coming for help with textbooks, it’s probably not just you don’t have money for textbooks,” Eros said. “You might not have money for rent or food or daycare. So during my time with a student, I’ll learn as much as I can to offer and connect them with resources in all of those areas.”

Southwestern College’s new housing resources include a partnership with the motel Red Roof Inn in Chula Vista to support students facing housing insecurities. The vouchers are set up for one-week stays with the possibility of extending them on a case-by-case basis. Students are able to identify a housing need on the Basic Needs Request Form. Meeting with Eros will help a student know if this is a good resource for them or if they are better suited for a nonprofit housing organization in the community that may provide fuller wrap-around services.

“The SWC Cares Program and our Basic Needs Coordinator help to connect students who are experiencing housing insecurities to resources within the community,” said Rachel Fischer, interim dean of student services. “The motel vouchers are intended to support students who are in need of shelter, while they are getting connected to the community resources that can provide them with longer-term housing assistance.”

Southwestern College’s basic needs efforts have been years in the making. More than four years ago, Patie Bartow, director of the Higher Education Center at San Ysidro, created the Jag Kitchen Food Pantry that has served thousands of students. 

Five Jag Kitchen workers and volunteers inside the Jag Kitchen Food Pantry.
Family Studies Professor Jenny Sabas (center) co-created the Jag Kitchen Food Pantry and staffed it with student workers and volunteers. This year, the Jag Kitchen has been converted to Jag Kitchen ToGo to continue to serve students remotely.

Bartow co-ran the Jag Kitchen with Family Studies Professor Jenny Sabas, who staffed the pantry with student workers and volunteers. Bartow and Sabas expanded Southwestern College’s food distribution to all of Southwestern College’s campuses and created critical relationships with the San Diego Food Bank, Sprouts Farmers Market and alumni donors

Bartow set the tone for basic needs at Southwestern College and instilled important values, including creating ways where students can feel whole and creating judgment-free environments. 

“Seeing the growth and development of the Jag Kitchen and SWC Cares is so heartwarming,” Bartow said. “As I reflect back to 2016 when we opened the pantry, I never imagined that the program would be institutionalized and embraced by the college campus.”

To help support students in need, please visit the Southwestern College Foundation’s website to learn about ways a gift can have big impacts on the lives of Southwestern College students.