Find out what one woman is doing to combat hunger on college campuses!
PHIL: Not too long ago, Yvonne Montoya was a college student struggling to eat a decent meal. Now she's leading the charge to get college campus food vendors around the country to accept food stamps from hungry students and to make sure that they’re well fed. Thanks for joining us.
YVONNE: Thanks for having me.
PHIL: So tell me about the program and what got you started to have this public policy effort.
YVONNE: Unfortunately it was based on experience. I had my own event planning business and because of the economy I lost my business. I found myself homeless for awhile sleeping wherever I could. And realized that the only way I was going to get out of my situation was by going back to school. And I originally went to Cerritos college and got a degree in business real estate, then realized that public policy was something I really wanted to do so I noticed Santa MonicA college had a degree and I wanted to go there. I found out that the Roosevelt campus Institute was trying to start a club on campus and we had an opportunity to write policy briefs for change and I chose my experience as a hungry homeless college student to see if we can do that for other students who were like mean not able to eat while they attended school.
PHIL: So let me ask you a question. When I first about this I was shocked to learn that here in Santa Monica there’s over 400 homeless college students, but then in talking to you, you opened up my eyes to the nationwide problem that we’ve got. How many homeless college students are there?
YVONNE: Over 53,800 nationwide in the United States. In the United States!
PHIL: I think a lot of people are surprised to hear that college students can actually be homeless. How did the situation start and what can we do about it?
YVONNE: Well, everybody has a different situation. A lot of people think that even at the University level that the Meal Plan is included in the tuition, it’s not. It’s extra. After you pay for books and tuition, if you don’t have that Pie-In-The-Sky Trust Fund, it is very hard to eat. And most students are there on Financial Aid. A vast majority of the Universities and Colleges, their students are there on Financial Aid and they are coming from low income families. And I know at the community college level at Santa Monica, some of them are taking 3 buses to get to school
PHIL: So what’s the next step for the program? You’ve identified that a real need is out there. You’ve made inroads with the colleges and raised the attention for it. You’ve talked to some food catering places, what are the next steps and what should we all be doing to support the effort?
YVONNE: The campus kitchen at Santa Monica College already submitted their application to accept the EBT food stamp program at their eating facility. And we want to build awareness, One, for colleges and Universities to show that, Yes, a vendor has taken the stance, so let’s all follow. And then to get the politicians to push this through. If even 1 percent of community college students were enrolled in this program who qualified, it would generate a huge economic influx for the surrounding vendors.
PHIL: So let’s talk about the vendor. There’s no downside to the vendor taking an EBT card, is there? They’re making the same amount of money.
YVONNE: That’s what were hoping to see. It’s just like any credit card or debit card. The money is going back into the community, it’s going back to the vendor [and they] are making their money. Nobody is getting cheated out of anything. So it’s basically just like saying “Here, we’re going to buy food. And here is your income and this is what we’re getting by doing it.” And the students get to eat and they’re not starving. Everybody wins. The community wins because the money’s coming in. The students win. And the school wins because they are actually helping the students get that higher education so they don’t have to stay in their situation. That’s why they’re there to begin with.
PHIL: Now you also told me about the system. That the longer you’re homeless the more benefits you get?
YVONNE: Yes, we met with the City of Santa Monica Housing and it was very disheartening to find out that there’s a hierarchy to being homeless. The longer you are homeless, the more services are available to you. And I was told that because our students are only there a maximum of 3 to 4 years, they aren’t there long enough to benefit from the services that the city has. I was told that there were other agencies outside of Los Angeles who could probably help put students but the City of Santa Monica services probably couldn’t help because they were not there long enough.
PHIL: Well thank you for doing this. Thank you for raising awareness. And hopefully we can make some changes together, because as you point out very correctly, people who are hungry may not learn as well as people who are well fed. So really really have to look much more holistically at students, at homelessness, and certainly about hunger. So thank you for all your efforts.
YVONNE: You’re welcome and thank you for having me.