City College Students and Non-Profit Combat Food Insecurity

By Carly Cheung


Student-led advocacy organization, Students Making A Change (SMAC), is distributing $7,500 worth of Safeway gift cards, $25 per card, to City College students – their efforts are in collaboration with Mothers Against Poverty (MAP) and Department of Children, Youth, and their Families (DCYF) to address food insecurity challenges faced by students during the pandemic. 

Illustration by Nazli Kandur/The Guardsman

In addition to the Safeway gift cards, eligible students are provided with additional $150 by the The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to use on expenses related to the disruption caused by COVID-19. 

In response to President Donald Trump administration’s guidelines excluding all undocumented students from accessing the funds, multiple board of trustees co-sponsored a resolution drafted by Trustee Tom Temprano urging the U.S. Department of Education to allow distribution of the funds to all students, regardless of their immigration status, during the college’s BOT meeting on April 23. 

Trustee Temperano emphasized the importance of providing a safe learning environment and quality education for the city’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. He relayed a firm message to the students by saying, “You are a part of city college, just like any of our students are, and we will fight for you and we are here to support you.”

Around 260 Safeway cards have been distributed by SMAC to City College students’ mailboxes and they are planning to obtain more gift cards in the following weeks. The service went live early March.

Prioritizations are made to working parents, students who lost their income, and students who are supporting their families. The application verification takes 24-48 hours and students receive their cards in the mail within 2-3 business days. Currently, the policy is one card per household.

Applications can be found on SMAC’s Instagram page or on the webpages of resource centers such as the Dream Resource Center and Latino Services Network. Additional resource centers are posted on the school’s virtual campus webpage. Students can also schedule telephone calls and Zoom meetings to discuss the application process with a staff member. 

A $7,500 grant approved by MAP provided SMAC with around 300 Safeway gift cards. A second round of $5,000 grant has already been approved and is estimated to provide 150-200 more cards, said Student Trustee and SMAC student activist Bryan Daley. With a second round of cards on the way, Daley mentioned SMAC will distribute an additional card to students with heightened needs from the first round of applications. 

Aliya Chisti, senior administrative analyst at DCYF who oversees the Free City program, elaborated on DCYF’s role in connecting the two local groups who were both searching for ways to support hungry students.

“It’s part of our mission, to bring different agencies and organizations and people together to help make change and help our community. We connected MAPS with SMAC… and we proposed the idea… why don’t we do gift cards,” Chisti said. “This was something real quick. I would say it was almost something reactionary to address the situation. You don’t have to wait in line like at a food pantry. That was our goal, to get this going ASAP.”

DCYF is also currently discussing reopening the RAMS Food Market on Ocean campus. They are in the preliminary stages of the plan, said Chisti. Since the closure of face-to-face classes, RAMS Food Market, which provided students with fresh produce every Tuesday on a first-come-first-serve basis, have been closed. 

Food insecurity is a continuing problem among City College students and the pandemic exacerbated the issue. Daley said, “Students were already food insecure so it is my hope that we can continue to give as many resources as possible (even after the pandemic) because the need was not recently created, it has only been heightened.”

The process took about a week and a half for SMAC to begin issuing applications, verifying students, and mailing out cards with only a team of two staff members and three to four members, who are City College students

Although SMAC has no food distribution experience, they were able to keep up with the sporadic rate of applications, sometimes up to 90 applications a day. 

“We’ve been defining success as the rapid way we’ve been able to turn around our resources. To us, success is not sitting on money that could help students,” said Daley. “We’re hearing stories from students that are saying these cards are coming in right on time. Really just hearing that one student got what they really needed does a lot. To me, that’s success.”

The Guardsman