ASUCSB Food BankWe recently spoke with Juli Nguyen from the Food Bank run by the Associated Students of the University of California, Santa Barbara (ASUCSB). She told us about “Voices of Hunger,” the Food Bank’s new campaign to raise awareness about student food insecurity.

Please tell us your name and current position with the ASUCSB Food Bank. Please also tell us a little bit about who you are: your year, major, and any other background info you’d like to share.
My name is Juli Nguyen. I am a third-year Economics and Accounting major. I currently hold the Vice Chair position on the Food Bank Committee.

How did you get involved with ASUCSB and the Food Bank?
I first learned about the Food Bank toward the end of my first year. I remember having back-to-back classes and labs one day (back when I was still a bio major), causing me to miss all of the dining commons hours. I was really hungry and, conveniently, didn’t have my wallet on me that day. I knew that there were usually lots of events that offered free food on campus, so I searched for “free food UCSB” and the AS Food Bank popped up! I remember how much the Food Bank felt like home to me, with the comfy sofas and free coffee. I’ve been an avid Food Bank user ever since.

When their spring recruitment drive came around, I initially just wanted to be more involved with student government. Since I was a user of the Food Bank, I thought that a great way to start my involvement with AS would be to join the Food Bank Committee. Other than the fact that I loved food, I came in knowing nothing about the different food issues on campus. But I think I’ve become much more educated on these issues and open-minded since I’ve joined the committee.

How did the AS Food Bank get started? What does it do? What has it accomplished?
The AS Food Bank offers free food and toiletries to all eligible undergraduate and graduate students. I strongly believe it’s a huge stress-relief for students who find themselves in need of the resources we offer.

Just as a glimpse of the past: the Food Bank started back in Spring 2011, after a few UCSB students and AS members pushed for an on-campus service that offered free food and toiletries. In the first week of its grand opening, we only serviced 5 students. But since then, we have serviced over 5000 students, with 2500 just in the previous year!

While this seems like a good thing – that the Food Bank is being utilized by so many students – it’s also distressing. The fact that so many students need the Food Bank and the resources it offers is a symptom of an even bigger problem. So while the Food Bank is here to operate as a resource to students, the committee is here to try and combat food security issues on campus and eventually help reduce the need for the Food Bank.

Please describe the Voices of Hunger campaign. What does it include? What are its goals?
Voices of Hunger is part of a hunger awareness statewide campaign. During a recent event we had at the AS Annex Lawn, we provided a whiteboard and markers to allow students and staff to submit their visual testimonials on how hunger has affected them and to share their experiences with hunger. Hunger can happen to anyone on all sorts of levels – it can range from someone who is hungry for a snack to someone struggling to find a meal. With the Voices of Hunger social media campaign, we hope to raise awareness of food security, access, and justice issues here on campus. In addition, we hope that through this campaign students will be more comfortable utilizing the Food Bank, knowing that many others have gone through similar experiences.

Our Instagram @ucsbasfoodbank displays all of the visual testimonials submitted under the hashtag #UCFood4All – take a look!

What do you expect will be the biggest challenges of the Voices of Hunger campaign?
Our biggest challenge is getting folks comfortable with sharing their experiences. Hunger is a sensitive issue and not many folks are comfortable with sharing their personal stories.

What advice would you give to campus food bank leaders who might want to run a similar campaign?
Promote a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable with sharing their stories. Encourage staff, faculty, and students to ask the following questions to help them realize that hunger can happen to anyone:

  • Have you ever been hungry?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • How did that affect you?
  • When was the last time you were hungry?

The best way to reduce stigma around hunger is to share your own personal narrative. So start with yourself.