Yee Yang chose Chico State for graduate school in part because it was conveniently close to home.

“I chose Chico because I am from Oroville,” she explained. “Since it is my goal in life to address and end poverty, I wanted to first start at the local level and help the community I came from.”

That goal led Yang to a degree in sociology and human rights from UC Davis and then graduate studies at Chico State, where she is completing her Master in Public Administration. When she finishes school, Yang plans to continue nonprofit work dedicated to eliminating poverty.

Here at Chico State, Yang’s goals led her to the like-minded Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) and its CalFresh outreach program, working to help hungry students get the nutritious food they need to stay healthy and succeed. She started at the University’s food pantry as an intern in spring 2017 as part of the CHC’s CalFresh outreach team.

Yee Yang sits at the greeting desk at the pantry.

By signing up students for CalFresh, Yang hopes she can provide them with longer-term support than the pantry itself.

Yang is now the pantry’s “student lead” and operations manager. She helps manage its day-to-day operations—distributing canned food and fresh produce directly to hungry students, addressing food insecurity on campus, and referring students to other food resources. Other CHC student employees and interns staff the pantry year-round.

Encouraging students who drop by the food pantry to apply for CalFresh to access longer-term nutrition support is a priority for Yang. Today’s college students, she said, aren’t necessarily 18 to 22 years old and receiving financial help from parents. Many work full time or part time, are veterans or single parents, or have returned to school after a long absence to improve their job prospects. Making ends meet can be an immense challenge.

A 2016 report showed that nearly one in four students in the California State University system are going hungry. Further research suggests that 46 percent of Chico State students struggle to afford food and one in every 12 students lives in unstable housing situations. The Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry is just one approach Chico State is taking to support its students who are struggling with meeting their basic needs.

The CHC collaborates with the pantry under the auspices of CSU, Chico’s Basic Needs Project, which is part of the CSU’s Basic Needs Initiative, and Chico Cares, which addresses both food and housing insecurity.

Yang’s efforts to end hunger don’t end at the food pantry. She served as a panelist during the May 4 CA4Health Perspectives statewide virtual meet-up on “food justice,” where she joined CHC’s Physical Activity Specialist Michele Buran for an interview. The collaborative forum emphasized food equity, the idea of providing healthy and nutritious foods to everyone.

“Food is a right, not a privilege,” Yang said. “It should be available to everyone.”

This story was first published by the Center for Healthy Communities in its spring newsletter. Author Terren Pouncy is a journalism major who interned with the CHC this semester.