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Raider Central Rallies to Meet Student Needs

Moorpark College’s stellar reputation for academic success and its affluent address do not grant it immunity from the nationwide epidemics of hunger and homelessness. Even at one of California’s premier community colleges, known for its 78% transfer rate to four-year universities and robust Career Education programs, a surprising 46% of students experience food insecurity, about 13% live below the poverty level, and 16% have experienced homelessness.

“It’s important to debunk the myth that Moorpark is a campus full of rich kids,” says Johnny J. Conley, Director of Student Equity at Moorpark College. “Although the campus is in an affluent area, we have a lot of students in need. We have kids from out of state, veterans, foster youth—quite a bit of students needing help with food and housing insecurities.”

In efforts to address these needs, a concerned group of faculty and staff joined forces to formulate a plan to help students. Their work resulted in the creation of Raider Central, a comprehensive onsite center designed to meet students’ basic needs by providing food, mental health services and resources for housing, clothing and more.

“If a student is hungry or doesn't know where s/he is going to sleep tonight, it's almost impossible to succeed academically,” notes Moorpark College Student Activities Specialist Kristen Robinson.

Slated to launch this fall, Raider Central experienced setbacks due to Covid, however, it is working with local nonprofits Food Share and Ruben Castro to distribute weekly food boxes containing staples like rice, oats, canned food, fruits, vegetables and protein, serving more than 100 students and 300 families in the first three weeks of operation. In addition, daily grab and go snacks are available on campus for students.

“We’re taking baby steps, but once the doors open, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running,” says Conley, noting Raider Center plans to expand services in the future.

“We’re also working on providing holiday boxes containing turkeys or hams for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” adds Conley.

While students currently face extreme financial hardships due to the Covid pandemic, California community college students have self-identified as food insecure long before the epidemic. A California Community Colleges survey conducted in March found 24.4% of students were laid off or furloughed, 49.5% experienced an income reduction and 22% had their hours reduced; 54.8% received or were waiting to receive emergency aid; 78% received or were waiting to receive food stamps through the SNAP program; and 46% were food insecure in the past 30 days.

“We are at a pivotal point as a society and as a business community. The state of homelessness and food insecurity is at shocking proportions on college campuses throughout the country. We can step aside and do nothing or we can lean in!” says Kathy Kraas, who is working with the Moorpark College Foundation. 

Just as all 10 UC and the 23 CSU campuses have a food pantry or distribution center, community colleges must increasingly rely on philanthropy to ensure students’ basic needs are met.

“The Moorpark College Foundation has historically asked very little of our surrounding community, businesses, alumni and friends and is long overdue in representing the true needs of our students,” says Jill Haney, Chair. “Having attended Moorpark College, I was delighted to be invited to serve on the foundation board five years ago. It's very rewarding to give back to a college that is a major contributor to the economic engine of the East Ventura County and that has personally benefitted so many local residents. Our region benefits from the college's strengths in more ways than people are aware,” she adds.

“We entered this pandemic with 38% food insecurity and 49% housing insecurity among our students. Now they are in a crisis,” says Julius Sokenu, Moorpark College, Interim President. “It’s important that we shed a light on the extent of the problem and do something to ensure that students have their basic needs met.”

The Moorpark College Foundation welcomes contributions on behalf of its students. Contact John Loprieno at mcfoundation@vcccd.edu.

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