Wesley House San Diego Supports Students as They Head Back to School

Published On: August 26th, 2022By Categories: Partnerships5.5 min read

The stereotype of the “starving” college student is common. Many college graduates look back on the years of eating Cup of Noodles for multiple meals with fondness. However, food insecurity on college campuses is a scary reality. As inflation persists and students head back to school, it’s vital to address the need for food assistance on campuses. Wesley House San Diego knows that for many low-income students, getting accepted and going to college is a miracle in itself. Often, they lack basic support to make it week to week. We spoke with Lisa Norombaba, the Executive Director of Wesley House San Diego, about how the organization offer a support system for college students and provide food resources for the community.

A woman with a face mask and a gray shirt holding pie in each hand in the Wesley House food pantry

Lisa Norombaba in the Wesley House food pantry showing the pies they rescued on Pi Day 2022

Wrap-around Service Give Students a Safe Place to Find Help

Wesley House started serving students 17 years ago. They provide low-income housing and wrap-around services in an 11-unit apartment building steps away from the San Diego State University (SDSU) campus.

“While most of our residents right now are San Diego State students, we serve students who are going to community colleges as well,” Lisa explained.

At first glance, Wesley House may seem to mainly offer housing. However, their services are wide-reaching.

“We go beyond housing, so we provide wrap-around support services,” Lisa told us. “That includes a mentorship program. We help our residents sign up for Calfresh or Medi-Cal. We help them navigate through the college system and the financial aid rigamarole. So, for instance, making sure they’re going to the right areas to register for classes. And then one other important program is our food pantry which started about three years ago.”

The food pantry at Wesley House

This suite of services is invaluable for those served by Wesley House. Many residents are system impacted, which may mean they are former foster youth. In addition, Wesley House serves individuals who are currently unhoused, come from a unhoused background, or were previously incarcerated.

“It is vital that these students have these services available to them,” Lisa shared. “I think back to my college experience, and frankly, I won the lottery. I have parents who were supportive. Going to college can be pretty daunting, even for someone like myself. Imagine you’re trying to navigate going to college without that background support. There’s no parent to fall back on if, for instance, you have no money left. Or you can’t necessarily rely on a parent that had a college experience who might be able to help you. So that’s where we fit in.”

Rescuing Food to Serve the Community

Wesley House partnered with Feeding San Diego three years ago to launch its food pantry.

“The pantry was originally set up to assist our residents by making sure that they’re able to have nutritious food. That’s where Feeding San Diego came in,” Lisa explained. “Since that time, Feeding San Diego has been a huge support. It was game-changing for us. Through the partnership that Feeding San Diego sets up and helps cultivate, we have been able to provide fresh vegetables, fresh meat, and all kinds of different food items for our residents.”

“We actually don’t turn people away. We are the only full-service food pantry in the college area because we’re open Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM.”

Last year, with students suffering the effects of the pandemic, Wesley House opened the food pantry to all students.

“We actually don’t turn people away. We are the only full-service food pantry in the college area because we’re open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Now we have over 250 people registered, and more than 90 percent of them are students.”

The Wesley House food pantry is supported by food rescue. Three times a week, staff visits nearby stores to pick up surplus food that would otherwise go to waste. Currently, they partner with a local Ralphs and Target. In addition, they take advantage of Feeding San Diego’s MealConnect alerts.

Staff from Wesley House rescuing food for the pantry

“We feel extremely fortunate when we go to these stores. They’re really all in with this food recovery concept, so it’s just been amazing the quality we received,” Lisa shared. “Plus, as food rescuers, we get an education from Feeding San Diego to ensure the food we distribute is handled correctly and safely. “We’re a small organization, and every penny that we have is going to keep this important service alive. Every little thing, every little help that we can get, is incredibly important. Feeding San Diego has been such a huge, huge help to us.”

Facing Inflation While Heading Back to School

More than ever, college students are struggling to keep up with the cost of attending school.

“When we decided to open the pantry to all students, the response was incredible. All we did was put a sandwich board outside on the sidewalk. And we thought, well, we’ll see, you know, we’re not really advertising. In the first year, we signed up 200 students.” The need, Lisa tells us, was obvious. “Inflation has really affected food and grocery shopping in general. When we first opened up, students would come in and look around and say, ‘how much can I take?’ or ‘what can I take?’ And we’re like, ‘take what you need.’ That’s what we’re about.”

As students come back to school, the food pantry offers an opportunity for the staff to provide additional support.

“The more that they come in, the more we get to know them, and we may catch on to what they’re having difficulty with. And that’s when our very expert full-time social worker can come in and help them navigate.”

Partnerships Help Communities Thrive

Partnerships like the food pantry at Wesley House allow us to serve those struggling with inflation, including students at SDSU and the surrounding community. In addition to college students, Feeding San Diego also supports K-12 students throughout San Diego County with no-cost food distributions and after-school meals. Feeding San Diego offers a range of food resources, including:

For more information about food resources in your area, visit our Find Food Map. Interested in supporting these crucial programs? Learn more about how to get involved.