In the window of Joe’s Picard’s office inside the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry is a framed piece of cardboard, with the handwritten words “Go Wildcats” scribbled across above the signature “JBM CSC ’66.”
To most people, it may not mean much. But to Picard, it means everything.
As Chico State’s Basic Needs Project administrator, he and his food pantry student employees were unpacking food delivery boxes on a crisp November morning in 2017 when they spotted the note scrawled on the top flaps of a box of canned pinto beans.
They were initially “blown away,” he said, especially considering the personalized message had come on a shipment from the Bay Area.
“I realized what it was, but I didn’t know who it was,” Picard recalled. “I knew that someone from the class of ’66 was communicating to us.”
The food pantry posted a photo of the communication on Facebook, tagged the donating agency, and included the caption, “We were unloading boxes from the food bank this weekend and stumbled upon this box! It made our day! THANK YOU JBM and everyone at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.”
Six minutes later, the food bank responded: “Greetings from our logistics manager, Jim.”
As a Feeding America affiliate, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties delivers directly to several higher education institutions, including Chico State, Cal State East Bay, and Diablo Valley College. Its logistics manager happens to be Jim Morris, a 1966 graduate in chemistry from what was then Chico State College (CSC).
As part of his role, he helps oversee the distribution of food around Northern California.
On the day the food bank’s first order for the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry was being staged in its warehouse, Morris walked past and saw a blank box on top of a pallet. Compelled to make sure his alma mater knew the Bay Area cared for Chico State’s students, he grabbed a pen and scribbled some encouragement for his fellow Wildcats.
His ties to Chico date back to 1948, when he was three years old. His father started working in the University’s Department of Education, and his mother was an advisor for the Alpha Chi sorority. After graduating from Chico High School, Morris earned his bachelor’s degree from Chico State and stayed an extra year to earn a secondary teaching credential in chemistry and a designated teaching credential in health safety.
Morris went on to serve in the Coast Guard for 31 years, and after he and his wife, Sharon, moved to the Bay Area to be closer to their grandchildren, he embraced an opportunity at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties, where Sharon had once worked.
It was a volunteer position, picking up donated items from grocery stores, food drives, and elsewhere, and originally a temporary assignment for the holiday season. But because of the work’s high demand and growing importance, the job was extended.
“I was told this position would end the last day of December, and that was fine,” Morris recalled. “Then I was told it would end the last day in January. Then it was the last day of February. Finally in March, a position opened up and I came on full-time. That was 18 years ago.”
Helping provide nutritious food options for those who need it has been Morris’ purpose ever since. Last year in just Contra Costa and Solano Counties alone, the food bank served 178,000 clients per month and delivered 22 million pounds of food—54 percent of which was fresh fruits and vegetables.
And since that first delivery in November 2017, it has delivered more than 100,000 pounds of food directly to the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry. It’s an invaluable donation for the program, which served more than 6,000 unique students during the 2018-19 academic year, up from about 4,000 students the year before.
“In helping to alleviate the food insecurity concerns at Chico State,” Picard said, “Jim is also helping our students get what they need to succeed here, in order to be ready for the workforce.”
Morris is reminded of his own experience as a college student some 50-plus years ago. While he never struggled with food insecurity himself, he had a few fellow Wildcats whose meals were never a guarantee.
“I knew classmates where food was sometimes a little questionable,” he said, “They’d come to our house more than once for dinner. … I know there were people that would sometimes, depending on circumstances, skip meals. That hasn’t improved.”
All evidence points to a worsening problem.
In a January 2018 California State University study titled “Study of Student Basic Needs,” 41.6 percent of CSU students struggled to afford food. More specifically, 20 percent of students experienced low food security—meaning they experience reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet—and 21.6 percent experienced very low food security, which is characterized by disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
This reality makes the work Morris does all the more important.
“Giving back to the community is something I have been doing most of my adult life,” Morris said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Back at Chico State, Picard walks by that framed box top several times a day. And every time he sees it, he hopes it serves as a signal to those who utilize the pantry that Chico State helps its own—whether they’re retired from teaching, a student on campus, or alumni in the workforce.
“A Bay Area food bank that serves the campus shows people in the Bay Area that they’re not that far away from us and our students,” Picard said. “We still need you.”
If you’d like to make a donation in support of the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry, please visit basicneeds.csuchico.edu for more information.