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learn / 2021

Meal Project

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Santa Monica College Foundation

Santa Monica College’s Meal Project is fueling vulnerable students’ academic persistence and degree completion. Our students struggling with food insecurity are provided groceries and nutritious meals via innovative partnerships solely with Los Angeles-based nonprofits, businesses, and restaurants. Meal Project is utilized as an access point to increase screening and connections to critical services inside and outside SMC, for a range of supports from housing insecurity to mental health and wellbeing.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

Community College students’ completion of degrees and career or technical certifications are critical to the upward mobility of individuals as well as a resilient Los Angeles economy. SMC’s 29,600 students reflect Los Angeles County with most (90%) residing outside of the Santa Monica city limits and concentrated (68%) in L.A. County Supervisory District’s 1 and 2, Downtown, East and South of Downtown L.A., which have seen the greatest economic and health impacts of COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, 54% of SMC students were food insecure according to a national survey conducted by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. Increasing rates of food insecurity among SMC students prior to and during the pandemic - along with data showing the detrimental effect food insecurity has on college persistence and degree completion - propelled us to reengineer and dramatically expand our food security ecosystem, launched as Meal Project in March 2020.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

Meal Project connects students to longer-term supports while employing strategies to address their immediate food insecurity. Meal Project provides a weekly drive through food pantry at which students receive shelf stable groceries, fresh produce and proteins, and a choice of two meal access options: 28 nutritious meals per month home delivered weekly (Everytable.com), or 28 immediate access meals per month through our partnership with Los Angeles technology incubator Not Impossible Labs’ Bento initiative (Notimpossible.com). Students are qualified for Meal Project’s services using the USDA’s food security assessment tool. Within 20 minutes of program enrollment, a food insecure student can pick up a healthy to-go meal near their current location through an innovative, text-based message interface from partnering restaurants with throughout LA County (no app download required). Underpinning all of Meal Project’s supports is the emphasis on transitional tools for longer-term self-sufficiency through screening, outreach, and referrals to needed services both internal to the College and in the greater community. Student assessments encompass finances, food, housing, social supports, and health and well-being, all essential contributors to academic success. SMC also has a designated facilitator to help students sign up for benefits such as CalFresh (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aka food stamps).

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

13,354
Direct impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

We envision a future in which college students reach their academic and career dreams, knowing their basic needs, including food security, are assured. In addition, we foresee other higher education institutions addressing students’ basic needs more broadly, as we continue to share our models and lessons learned with one another. SMC is poised to have an outsized impact on college matriculation during the grant period if we are able to continue the program at the current level where no student struggling with extreme hunger is turned away. A harbinger of the future, SMC’s enrollment decreased less than 2% during the pandemic while community college enrollment has fallen on average by 10% nationwide. Moreover, SMC students receiving Meal Project assistance have continued enrollment semester to semester at a rate 20% higher than our overall student body.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

SMC has seen a 20% higher rate of academic persistence, demonstrated through continued enrollment semester to semester, among students receiving Meal Project assistance compared to the general student population (SMC Institutional Research). Impact measures: 1) Number of meals and bags of groceries distributed. Anticipated: 150,000 – 200,000 meals and 40,000 – 50,000 bags of groceries. 2) Increased student persistence as measured by course completion, drop rates, and continued enrollment for participants compared to the student body. 3) Increased matriculation to college among vulnerable students as measured by enrollment of new students (freshman) qualifying for Meal Project assistance. 4) Increased graduation rates among students receiving Meal Project assistance. 5) Increased food security among participants. 6) Increased program usage by at-risk populations. 7) Number of needs assessments conducted. 8) New referrals to/enrollment in CalFresh.

Which of the learn metrics will you impact?​

  • College graduates
  • College matriculation
  • Community college completion

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

  • LA is the healthiest place to LIVE