Students do not have to meet any requirements to receive a voucher. | Celina Oseguera/Mustang News

Taylor Petschl
Special to Mustang News

With the costs of tuition, books and other college necessities, food is the last purchase for some students.

The Cal Poly Hunger Program is here to help with that.

Since fall of 2013, Cal Poly’s Hunger Program has distributed 5,400 meal vouchers to students who could not afford to eat, Assistant Dean of Students Joy Harkins said. The vouchers allow students to consume “all you care to eat” lunches or dinners at the on-campus 19 Metro Station.

Students do not need to meet any qualifications to receive a voucher.

“You don’t have to be on financial aid, be enrolled in a certain number of units, have a certain GPA and you don’t have to be working,” Harkins said.

Originally, the vouchers were only available at the Dean of Students’ office. Now, vouchers are offered at 27 different locations, including each college’s advising center, Financial Aid, Counseling Services and the Academic Skills Center. All the on-campus locations are listed on the Hunger Program’s website.

“By having the meal vouchers available at certain points on campus, we’re hoping that when students approach faculty and staff, they’ll have a relationship with that person, whether it’s their instructor or an adviser or mentor,” Harkins said.

Some students have a hard time paying for both food and college expenses — according to the Cal Poly website, an average Cal Poly student can expect to pay between $17,619 and $24,360 per year on tuition, books, housing and other living expenses. Some students have financial aid,  scholarships or jobs to help pay these expenses.

Cross Cultural Centers Assistant Director Erin Echols has met students who face challenging situations while waiting to get money from these sources, she said.

“At the beginning of the school year, it can be rough for some students with—maybe financial aid hasn’t come through yet, or their first paycheck hasn’t come through for their campus jobs,” Echols said.

Many students at Cal Poly fall into the category that wait on financial aid to pay for college expenses. In fact, 61 percent of full-time undergraduates applied for financial aid for the 2012-13 academic year at Cal Poly. Only 5 percent had their financial needs fully met without requiring loans, according to CSUmentor.com.

But financial aid cannot guarantee a student will have enough money to cover every expense throughout the month, Harkins said.

The university expects the Hunger Program to continue growing as more people become aware of the resource, Echols said. To make sure this happens, Harkins has been reaching out to different advising centers and student development professionals on campus.

The Hunger Program doesn’t put a limit on how many vouchers a location may hand out. The number is solely dependent upon how many students are seeking help, Echols said.

The vouchers are intended to be a temporary solution rather than a way to fill an ongoing need, Echols said. There are several other options if a student’s need is more consistent. For example, PULSE’s new food pantry can provide a bag of groceries to students.

“We like to emphasize for them some other resources that are on campus,” Echols said.

Several churches and other nonprofits also offer pre-made or take-home meals. They offer food assistance on different days of the week. Students can find the complete list of times and locations on the Hunger Program’s website.

Cal Poly isn’t the only place where students can receive food.

Feeding America, a national hunger-relief charity, included college students for the first time in the recently released Hunger in America 2014 study.

Some 10 percent of the adult clients Feeding America serve are listed as students, Director for Media Relations Ross Fraser said. Feeding America helps 2 million full-time and 1 million part-time students.

It may be hard for students to admit they cannot afford to purchase their next meal. Echols expects the program will continue to grow and give students access to vouchers without going too far out of their comfort zone, she said.

“I think it takes a lot of guts to come back and ask for any kind of assistance for any student on campus. So to admit that you’re hungry, I think, can be tough,” Echols said. “But we’re really happy that our students feel comfortable enough to come back here.”

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