Editor's Note: Full names have been redacted from the pages of the guestbook above to protect privacy. The personal essay that follows was contributed by Abdallah Jadallah, who helped create the UCLA Food Closet featured in our story, Hungry for Education.
In a country that is preoccupied with debt, probably few people are aware that Americans now owe more in student loans than they do on their credit cards. Millions of college students suffer each day, struggling to support themselves while trying to obtain an education. Unfortunately, rather than dedicating their time to study for classes, students are forced to eat less, work multiple jobs, or even go homeless in order to pay for school. I knew that this is unacceptable. In what is supposed to be a warm and nurturing environment, fostering young minds in order to develop future leaders, the last of students’ worries should be whether or not food is going to be on the table when they need it. That is why, in 2009, I helped develop the Food Closet.
The Food Closet is a room located on campus that provides students with the necessary food and toiletries that they may not be able to afford on their own. Rather than being forced to eat cheap, unhealthy food that does not provide them the necessary nutrition young minds need, students are able to obtain foods such as protein bars, canned fruits and vegetables, cereals, and soup. Students are also able to obtain vitamins and minerals, without worrying about the financial burden of maintaining a healthy diet.
The Food Closet started from a simple task of asking administrators for an unused room to store food. The UCLA administrators were very helpful in providing us with a space. Next, we secured donations from various sources including:
- Donations from staff and administrators
- Grocery stores
- Student organizations which had leftovers from their events
- Canned food drives
My faith inspired me to serve the students in this manner. One of the major tenants of Islam is to serve the people around you, regardless of their faith or social status, in whatever capacity is accessible to you. There is a verse from the Quran that reads, "And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive, [Saying] ‘We feed you only for the countenance of Allah. We wish not from you reward or gratitude’" (78:8-9). This was the manner in which I chose to serve my UCLA community, by providing students with healthy food options. The intent behind creating the Food Closet was not of self-gratification or seeking accolades but instead, a calling to provide the needy with the resources they require to, just, survive. Islam teaches me that giving to others is a means to serve God. And, in doing so, it must be done with the utmost modesty, sincerity, and humility.
A key aspect to this principle is that a person should give to anyone in need, regardless of the recipient’s background. That is why the Food Closet is dedicated to serve any student who needs food. In the past, the closet has been able to serve: undocumented AB540 students, students that would usually resort to low quality fast- food, students living in cars, and students sleeping in the library.
Overall, this is one of the most effective and simple ways to help my peers. While it is a plus that more schools are starting their own Food Closets, the process needs to expand even further in order to meet the needs of the students across the country. At any university, the first priority should always be the health and welfare of the students, and the Food Closet is a great start to truly fulfilling this priority.