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How Otis College Helps with Students’ Basic Needs 

Otis College students restock the Food Pantry.
Relying mostly on monetary support from the broader Otis Community, the College is able to offer a 24/7 Food Pantry, housing vouchers, and more. 
Anna Raya

Increasingly, colleges across the country are addressing student needs beyond the classroom. Almost half of the college students surveyed in a 2019 report by The Hope Center experienced food and/or housing security. Too often, there are stories of students deciding whether to buy food or school supplies; at Otis, this dilemma is compounded by the expensive nature of most art and design materials (84% of students receive some form of institutional financial aid). For this reason, several years ago the Resource Exchange was launched by a former student (Nicole White, ’10 BFA Fine Arts) so that faculty and students could donate, share, and swap art and design supplies. 

In 2019 the Food Pantry was opened, in part supported by a generous donation from former Trustee Kirk Hyde. Students can access the pantry 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and it is stocked with non-perishable food items such as protein bars, fruit cups, canned soups, and peanut butter, as well as toiletries like toothpaste and deodorant. It is managed by Student Activities and maintained by the Students’ Union, relying on food and monetary donations from the greater Otis Community.

Laura Kiralla, Vice President of Campus Life at Otis College, says students are often surprised, but “appreciative that ‘a school of our size’ has resources such as a Food Pantry and Resource Exchange—often these are services only available at larger institutions.” Kiralla notes that food insecurity and access to supplies and materials tend to be the most pressing needs. “But each student has their own set of basic needs unique to their own circumstances,” she adds. 

In addition to the Food Pantry and Resource Exchange, the College offers the Feed-a-Need program, whereby Campus Life works with the College’s food service agency, Bon Appetit, to redistribute unused meals for food insecure students. There’s also a housing voucher program that allows unhoused students to live temporarily in Otis housing when space is available. Also ongoing are plans to offer a rideshare program to ensure student transportation needs are met, and emergency grants “to address in-the-moment emergencies and life changes, such as needing to pay for car repairs, gas, a medical bill or prescription, or supplies and materials for a class project, and other unexpected expenses that impact a student’s ability to stay enrolled at the College,” says Kiralla. All of these programs rely on internal and outside funding to stay afloat. 

Student leaders, however, are already pitching in whatever ways they can. “Our student community understands the issue of food insecurity and is open-hearted in wanting to do more to address not only food injustice, but also other needs of their fellow students,” says Carol Branch, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs. “Students’ Union is passionate about addressing these needs in a holistic manner, both physical and mental. So you will see them working with campus partners to address mental health concerns, as well as doing the work of cleaning, restocking, and spreading the word of the Food Pantry and its 24-hour access to students.”

“My hope is for all students to have the courage to come forward and ask for help from the Campus Life staff,” says Kiralla, adding that students who need help can contact the Office of Student Affairs at 310-665-6960, stop by the second floor of Ahmanson Hall (Suite 205) or e-mail student@otis.edu. “Every student matters deeply and deserves to thrive at Otis.” 

In acknowledgement of Otis College’s 103rd birthday on September 30, the department of Institutional Advancement is encouraging the broader Otis Community to donate towards students’ basic needs at this link. Participants are encouraged to donate in increments of $3, $13, $33, $103, or whatever amount they can.  

Main photograph by Jen Atalla/Otis College of Art and Design. From left: Student leaders Kaiden Robinson, Alan Xu, and Arabella Osoria restock the Food Pantry.