Partnership with Global Hunger Foundation and Local Nonprofit Food Groups Opens Students’ Eyes to Issues of Food Insecurity — and the Charities That Are Addressing It
Most college-age students don’t know where their fast-food hamburger comes from, let alone how political and socio-economic issues affect its journey from farm to table and beyond.
But thanks to a unique Urban Studies course offered by Woodbury University through its College of Liberal Arts, some 40 students learned that food insecurity and the politics of hunger touch every community, and how “mindful philanthropy” can help donors maximize their charitable contributions.
“Food and the City: Are You Going to Eat That?” is a semester-long course that “helps students fulfill Woodbury’s long-standing commitment to civic engagement while learning hands-on how philanthropies work,” according to Douglas Cremer, Ph.D, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
The course was co-developed by Urban Studies coordinator and instructor Emily Bills, Ph.D., and Woodbury associate professor Eric Schockman, Ph.D, founder and president of the Global Hunger Foundation (https://globalhungerfoundation.org/), which supports course objectives by providing a modest contribution to charities selected by the students as part of their final project.
“We want our students to feel connected to our community by engaging with organizations that work with food insecurity on a daily basis,” Bills said. “To do that, we provide the tools to understand how food affects environmental concerns, public health and urban policy, and how food distribution programs really operate.”
While a handful of students have personally experienced “food insecurity” – that is, no reliable source of food in the home — or have lived in communities where there are no grocery stores or fruits and vegetables (known as a “food desert”), “the curriculum is a real ‘wow’ for most of them,” said Bills. “I would venture to say that this course is an eye-opening experience for every student who enrolls.”
During the second half of the course, students move from “talk” to “action” as they create a rubric by which to evaluate the selection of a charity on which to focus their final project. After considerable study, the students in the most recent course selected Pacoima-based MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity) https://mendpoverty.org/ and the Burbank Temporary Aid Center (http://www.burbanktemporaryaidcenter.org/) based on their analysis of operations, finances and adherence to objectives. Both groups received a modest grant from the Global Hunger Foundation.
“We went beyond talking about food justice and how sad it may be that we walk down the street and see so many of our fellow humans in dire living situations to digging into the transparency of an organization, from accountability of values and mission to straight-forward tax documents,” said Shamane Morejon, an Interior Architecture major. “I had no idea that information was available to us or that a nonprofit by law must release their documents on request.”
Business Management major Nona Kyundibeckyan noted that the volunteer aspect of the program made her want to do even more to help the less fortunate. “Witnessing the clients while volunteering encouraged me to take this issue more seriously,” she said. “The issue needs more attention directed toward it, and this class does just that.”
Starting in the early 1970s as a small group of volunteers working from a garage in the San Fernando Valley, MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity) is now the largest anti-poverty agency in the Valley, with 37,000 clients each month. The organization has grown primarily by word-of-mouth into one of the leanest operating non-profits in the country. More than 94 percent of the support and donations the organization receives go directly to providing emergency food, clothing, medical, vision and dental care, job skills training and job placement assistance, English as a Second Language classes, youth activities, and a Christmas program.
About Burbank Temporary Aid Center (BTAC)
The Berkeley Temporary Aid Center is dedicated to providing the poor, working poor, and homeless of the local community with basic services they need to live with dignity, and to serve citizens of the city in times of emergency and disaster. disaster. As a conduit between the generous donors of the community, foundations, and government resources, BTAC works to provide clients with help such as food, utility assistance, transportation assistance, emergency shelter (off-site and short-term), medical assistance, referrals to other community resources, and holiday outreach.