In 2020, three out of five U.S. college students reported they were struggling to keep up with basic needs, according to The Hope Center, citing lack of money or resources.

Locally, Santa Monica College is working to reduce student hunger by offering a free bodega to all students currently enrolled. Saida Hernandez takes advantage of this market because she works three jobs to afford school and help her parents with expenses.

She has been taking classes part time since 2018, while commuting two hours each way to the community college’s campus. She would often rely on fast food because it was quick and cheap instead of getting healthy, nutritious meals.

“It was a struggle because I have a physical disability, and it was hard to lose weight,” added Hernandez.

According to Swipe Out Hunger, one in three college students in the U.S. faces food insecurity. They say this threatens a student’s ability to focus, stay in school, and feel a sense of community.

Santa Monica College itself reported that 50% of their students struggle to afford necessities. This is why Sharlyne Massillon, Basic Needs' project manager, felt this weekly bodega was necessary for success. She says home life directly impacts getting to the next level.

“It’s become more of a ‘I need to make money so I can support myself.’ If you are already traveling far, you aren’t getting what you need on campus, you are hungry. You can’t even focus on education. You are focusing on the basics,” she said.

To have access to the on-campus bodega, all you have to do is prove you are a current student. The free grocery store is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but many students line up hours before it opens. Massillon hopes this centralized, modern space to get basic needs will destigmatize asking for help.

“You need healthy, nutritious food so your brain can operate at its maximum capacity, so you can retain the knowledge you are learning on campus and be your best self,” said Massillon.

Hernandez is on her way to being her best self, because worrying about her and her family’s next meal is something she can take off her list.

“I feel relieved," she said. "I do not have to always think about food as being my top priority.”

The fresh produce, dry goods, frozen items and hygiene products are donated by Sunrise Produce, Westside Food Bank, Venice Family Clinic, The Butter End Cakery, Everytable, SMC Foundation and Vicente Foods.