CHICO, Calif. - Nearly half of California State University students statewide struggle with food insecurity. That's according to a 2018 report by the California State University system. 10 percent of students reported being homeless in the last year. Universities like Chico State are responding with services to help struggling students.
"Things got expensive, rent went way up,"said Oscar Rodriguez, a student at Chico State.
For Rodriguez, life has been a struggle to escape where he came from.
"My mom never graduated, my dad wasn't really around. I had to figure out where to live," he said.
Rodriguez grew up knowing he'd have to work just a bit harder than everyone else. He came to Chico because it was one of the most affordable places.
Overcoming the stigma of being homeless, Rodriguez graduated Chico State just months ago. But up to recently, he was one of the hundreds of students in the California State system, who are homeless.
"You can go through so many struggles while you're at school, and the last thing you need to worry about is, 'I'm hungry,'" he said.
We connected with Joe Picard, who runs the Chico State Basic Needs Project, to get more details.
"The families and the students coming here are more economically challenged than last generation," Picard said. "It's tough for students to learn if they don't have a stable housing environment."
The Basic Needs Project was formed to address the staggering number of students who lack proper food and housing. The Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry is one option that Rodriguez turned to when money was tight. The pantry has served over 200 students per day since the start of the school year and they plan to distribute over 1.5 tons of food by the end of the week.
Farm fresh produce and canned goods come from generous community donations and the local food bank.
"Financial aid just doesn't go far enough," Picard said. "This helps supplement the other aid the [students are] getting."
As for Rodriguez, he now works with the Butte County Office of Education as a mentor for at-risk and homeless youth.
"That struggle made me a stronger person," Rodriguez said.
The average cost of attending and living at chico state this year, we're told, is about $25,000.
The University of California system reports an even higher cost for the new school year at $35,000.