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Students question lack of food stamp policy

Mills offers two on-campus eateries, but students find it distressing that neither accept food stamps (Francesca Twohy-Haines).
Mills offers two on-campus eateries, but students find it distressing that neither accept food stamps (Francesca Twohy-Haines).

Students struggling to pay for food may not be able to find assistance from the government, and while Bon Appétit and Mills staff say they’re willing to help, no campus-wide policy exists to fill this gap.

Existing laws do not allow Mills to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stampsbecause the structure of the dining facilities do not fulfill the requirements laid out by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The guidelines are geared towards people buying groceries, not for locations with sit-down facilities, such as the Tea Shop or Founders. Some colleges and universities can accept SNAP, but usually only at convenience stores that primarily sell eligible staple foods such as fruit, bread, and meat. Since the bookstore sells many goods the USDA calls “accessory foods,” such as candy and condiments, it does not qualify.

With 95 percent of students on financial aid in 2013, according to Mills’ website, not all Mills students can afford to eat at Mills. Student meal plans average about $15.19 to $9.45 per meal, depending on the plan. These are higher average costs than buying meals individually, yet most students who live on campus are forced to purchase a meal plan.

The pricing of campus food was the result of a negotiation between Mills and Bon Appétit, according to Katy Simones, the general manager of Bon Appétit at Mills, and could be renegotiated.

“We could definitely work together on this,” Simones said, regarding finding solutions for low-income students.

Staff from HMDS, especially Dorothy Calimeris, director of Auxiliary Services, and Phaedra Gauci, archivist/Auxiliary Services specialist, were proactive at investigating the possibility of SNAP eligibility. After Gauci saw a post about SNAP on the Mills College Facebook page in September, Calimeris quickly contacted Bon Appétit to see if it was a possibility and also reached out to auxiliary services at other colleges to see what they were doing but found that it was not an option for Mills. Calimeris said nobody had asked HMDS for SNAP acceptance before.

When students steal from the Tea Shop or Founders, the policy is that staff speak to the student first to see if they’re in need of help, before moving on to disciplinary action. If they do need help, HMDS and the Division of Student Life can refer them to community food banks and other local resources in Berkeley and Oakland.

Still, there is no specific policy in place to assist those who need help.

Mills student Dana Garza uses SNAP and is frustrated that on-campus eateries do not accept it.

“It’s so ironic because here we are, one of the most elite women’s colleges, and there are actually people who really struggle … to make it,” Garza said. “So I was thinking: what would work on campus?”

Since students can’t access government assistance on campus, some students say that community based action may be the only solution. Garza suggested that the school farm could distribute food to low-income students. Calimeris said that Bon Appetit could give its leftovers to a student group. Mills could also circumvent these restrictions by inviting a farmer’s market onto campus where SNAP could be accepted.

A small coalition of staff, faculty and students are meeting to organize around this issue, especially the distribution of leftovers from Founders Commons. For more information about this coalition, contact Amy Tao at a