By Laurie McLaughlin
There is a growing need for access to nutritious food for students struggling to meet this basic need across the CSU system. At CSUDH, the Information Technology team worked with Apple technology to design the CSUDH Eats iPhone app, which will be available for free.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to excel academically if you are hungry, says Chris Manriquez, vice president of information technology. “Food insecurity–not being able to afford regular meals–is one of the challenges that some of our students face. Students grapple with a number of insecurity issues, including transportation, housing, and psychological support, but not having enough to eat is the one that affects the broadest amount of people.”
CSUDH worked to proactively address this serious need while creating a unique co-curricular learning experience for students, who were able to participate alongside IT professionals and learn Apple design methodology during the project. The app alerts users about free or low-cost food sources on campus. This includes announcing food that is left over following an event or at the student housing dining halls, for example, or available items at the university’s Toro Food Pantry. CSUDH Eats will also provide information about items that may be purchased at the campus’s weekly farmers market with payment cards issued by the USDA-funded CalFresh program.
Story featured in the fall 2019 issue of CSUDH Magazine.
The university’s Information Technology division created the app with design guidance from Apple; the Office of Student Life coordinates the content and food source outlets.
The CSUDH Eats app will reach more students in need because they are already accustomed to managing their lives on their phones, says Matthew Smith, interim associate vice president of student life and dean of students. A mobile app also helps remove the embarrassment of asking for help because the app is freely available. “We have great resources in providing food for students, but too often these resources are not as well-known as they should be, or they may come with a stigma,” he says. “CSUDH Eats users don’t need to go to an office to find this information, and they don’t have to divulge personal information.”
While there are no hard numbers to quantify how many CSUDH students experience food insecurity, Smith says his office regularly encounters students who haven’t been eating and turn to Student Life departments looking for resources. “In Los Angeles County, just 66% of eligible participants are enrolled in food-service programs, and we know L.A.’s cost of living is high. At CSUDH, about 64% of our students are eligible for assistance through Pell Grant, which means we have students who are struggling with finances.
“The face of our institution is changing, and our students come from more diverse backgrounds, which includes socio-economic diversity. So, we can’t tout and celebrate that diversity without doing what we need to do to support everybody.”
CSUDH Eats will initially offer sources for food, but Smith says the app may also be expanded to feature resources in other areas, including housing and transportation. Currently, Student Affairs offers these services through its Basic Needs Initiative–including emergency housing, the Toro Food Pantry, and emergency grants–supporting students with information online as well as walk-in assistance.
“For a long time, students have been told that they have to be ‘campus-ready’ in order to attend the university,” says Manriquez. “We are finding that the university needs to be ‘student-ready.’ That readiness means we ‘speak digital’ to connect with students, and we are prepared with services that are directly related to the needs and demands of students today. That’s the foundation for CSUDH Eats, and this effort defines who we are at California State University, Dominguez Hills.”