AS STUDENTS RETURN to San Jose State University, many are relying on the campus food pantry for groceries.

Vinay Guda, a computer software engineering masters student, said he and his roommates shop at the food pantry every week to get essential groceries such as eggs, milk and vegetables.

“We use it all the time,” Guda told San José Spotlight. “We’ve never missed a week.”

Established by SJSU in 2016, the Spartan Food Pantry offers non-perishable goods, produce and refrigerated items to students who face food insecurity or have limited access to nutritious food.

Roughly 29 percent of students experience food insecurity, according to a recent basic needs survey by SJSU Cares, the program that runs the pantry.

More students came to the pantry on Monday than any day last year, according to a Spartan Food Pantry Instagram post. The pantry is open Monday to Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students began returning to in-person classes on Aug. 19 after more than a year of distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guda says he’s noticed the pantry is more crowded lately as students return to campus. He likes to go to the pantry on Wednesdays to beat the crowd.

“We can get free food and it’s good and convenient,” Guda said. “We consume a lot of eggs (and other groceries) so we need that resource.”

San Jose State University sophomore Everyck Bayaua waits outside the Spartan Food Pantry on Aug. 18 after collecting food. (Photo by Stephanie Lam)

It’s not just students who utilize food pantries. A March report by the California Association of Food Banks shows statewide food insecurity more than doubled in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels, affecting 10 million Californians.

Food pantries in San Jose also saw an increase in beneficiaries in the past few months.

SJSU sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton said he is concerned about whether the food pantry can accommodate the growing number of users now that students have returned to campus.

“I believe that the need is going to be great,” Myers-Lipton told San José Spotlight. “(When I was teaching on campus), I had students who were struggling. … I’m wondering what’s going to happen now that there is this huge line at the food pantry.”

Ben Falter, senior student affairs case manager at SJSU, declined comment, saying that pantry workers are busy handling a “large volume” of students requesting assistance. Falter said anyone with questions about the food pantry should visit the SJSU Cares website.

“(When I was teaching on campus), I had students who were struggling. … I’m wondering what’s going to happen now that there is this huge line at the food pantry.”

Scott Myers-Lipton, SJSU professor

Diane Baker Hayward, spokesperson for Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, said it’s important for students to have access to food pantries near campus. The food bank supports pantries at community colleges across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, as well as SJSU and two private colleges.

“College students are an often-overlooked group of people who struggle to get enough nutritious food, particularly in Silicon Valley where the cost of housing is so high,” Hayward told San José Spotlight.

While students such as Guda have relied on the SJSU food pantry for months, new students including sophomore Everyck Bayaua discovered it for the first time this month.

After hearing about the pantry through a friend, Bayaua picked up cans of  food and vegetables to last him the week. He said he plans to go to the pantry in the upcoming weeks to save money on groceries.

“I try to go to a Grocery Outlet (nearby), but I don’t want to waste my money,” Bayaua said. “I want to save as much as I can.”

Contact Stephanie Lam at stephanielam.c@gmail.com or follow @StephCLam on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.