COD Central Pantries and FIND Food Bank Help Students Eat While Reducing the Plight of Hunger

Students who hunger for a meaningful way to serve their community while moving toward a college degree, have found it at COD, thanks to a program that started in early 2022. College of the Desert, the FIND Food Bank, and the nonprofit groups One Future Coachella Valley and Growing Inland Achievement have banded together to take a bite out of food insecurity while helping service-hearted students offset their school costs and develop leadership skills.

COD was among 45 universities and colleges selected statewide to participate in #CaliforniansForAll College Corps, the first program of its kind in the state. Through the innovative state grant program, the partners offer up to $10,000 in paid fellowships and scholarships to each student who contributes a year of community service at the food bank. The initiative is part of a statewide effort to create a debt-free path to higher education and represents a $1.8 million investment into the Coachella Valley.

Students who choose to invest themselves for a total of 450 hours of service at FIND Food Bank and in the program over the academic year will earn $7,000 and qualify for a $3,000 scholarship to attend College of the Desert. Volunteer opportunities for these students include working at pilot campus supermarkets and FIND’s mobile food pantries and distribution centers. Set right in the heart of the COD campus, the Palm Desert location provides food and other essentials to up to 100 people per day. Each person can visit once per week, every week, to receive up to 15 pounds of food.

“Every day, FIND helps to address the pressing problem of food insecurity and inequities across our region by feeding approximately 150,000 people each month at more than 150 distribution sites throughout the desert. Partnering on this project will create a cadre of future leaders to help us meet our mission of solving hunger for life.”

Hunger and Housing Insecurity is Real for our Students.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to help those in need,” says Derick Matthew Talay, an 18-year-old freshman at COD studying Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting. He immigrated from the Philippines in 2020. Now his goal is to transfer to UC Berkeley and one day become a certified public accountant. His volunteer service in the food pantry hits especially close to home.

“Coming from a third world country, I know firsthand the struggles food insecurity,” says Talay, who is part of COD’s EDGE/plEDGE program, supported by the COD Foundation. “A lot of my people back home go hungry, and I assumed America would be a little bit different, that fewer people would be hungry or impoverished. It was a big eye-opener when I realized that poverty is everywhere. It chooses no country, no person. It affects the people who are really struggling the most. And poverty can be a factor that hinders people from continuing their education and careers.”

Few may realize that food insecurity is another significant barrier to completion for many community college students. When resources are scarce, families need to focus on putting food on the table over attending classes. Even money for books or the cost of gas or bus fare to get to school becomes a burden they can’t afford to bear. “I travel to and from school by bus each day,” Talay adds. “Seeing homeless people and struggling college students who have food insecurities has given me insight into how big of an issue we truly have here.” Since working in the food pantry, Talay has met many people who have confirmed the critical importance of the FIND Food Bank at COD. One was a fellow Filipino foreign exchange student who related to his own struggles of being an immigrant and an international student. “He has two children in the Philippines and he dreams for them to be here and get an education,” says Talay. “He also expressed how thankful and appreciative he is because of the food he was able to choose from our food pantry. It was just one of the many examples of how we impact people.”

“The vision is to provide access to food services on campus and give students the ability to come in and pick what they need. They can take items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, so they can cook a meal at home. The center’s support programs and resources assist students in meeting these basic needs like food, stable housing, wellness and security so they can focus on their academic success.”


Because hunger can affect anyone at any time, COD has opened two on-campus Central Pantries – in partnership with FIND Food Bank – where students themselves can access non-perishable items, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other household items. The Palm Desert location opened in September and the Indio location opened in November. So far, nearly 1,000 students have benefitted from the program, with nearly 4,000 visits in the past few months.

“Every week we encounter COD students who share their challenges around housing insecurity and access to food,” Vargas shares. “It’s been really inspiring and has motivated us to continue to reinforce that commitment to serve them. Hearing the students’ stories as they come in and express that they need support has really pushed me and our other staff members to further strengthen our services.” Vargas adds that when students have the resources they need to succeed academically, COD takes its own step toward breaking the cycles of generational poverty and inequity. “Trying to focus on your academics and learn in class becomes very difficult when, in the back of your mind, you’re not sure where your next meal is going to come from.” For Talay, as he works toward higher education and volunteers at the food pantry, the journey often becomes emotional.

“My mother is a single mother, and I can only imagine her struggle when I was born. She didn’t finish college because of our needs, and she wanted to provide a better future for me. Working in this program has made me think back on the days of how hard she worked to provide diapers and food. She always taught me to be grateful and to value education; this program gives me a platform to do both. I can’t even describe how much I appreciate her and sometimes when I see people here, especially single mothers with their babies, I can see my mom’s face reflected in theirs.”


It’s a program he is proud to be part of. “I see people working together so hard every day to build this community,” he says. “I will never get tired of helping those in need, and I believe that this is a once-in-a lifetime experience.

Central Pantries team member Nevaeh Garcia witnesses first-hand the gratitude from approximately 100 food insecure students each day who have the opportunity to take home free groceries and household items needed to care for their families. Many students are hesitant at first to come in and get what they need because they aren’t used to receiving free valuable food items and necessities. “Many students come in with their children,” shares Garcia. “It’s heartwarming to see these kids with big smiles on their faces as they help pick the groceries that they get to take home. And sometimes we have small toys and that really makes their day!”

“Now we have regulars who come in once a week for their allotted rations or to just grab a snack before class. Students comment on how much better they can concentrate in class or how much of a difference it has made having an important resource like this available to them. I love to see everyone so happy and appreciative!”

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