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After Launching CSUF Food Pantry Project, MSW Student Sets Sights on Leading More Change

Tom GarlandEight years ago, Master of Social Work student Tom Garland had what he calls an “existential epiphany” or a deep period of reflection on the direction of his life and career. After some deliberation, Garland resigned from his job in real estate to pursue opportunities that fulfilled his passion for empowering underserved communities.

One such opportunity arrived in the fall of 2015 when Garland, then a fourth-year student in HHD’s Human Services program, learned of a Chancellor's Office study that estimated between 8 and 12 percent of the CSU system's 460,000 students live in unstable housing conditions and 21 to 24 percent lack regular access to food. Garland, along with fellow student leaders in the Human Services Student Association, conceived the idea of simple food bank that would feed hungry Titans. They called it Tuffy’s Pantry.

Garland’s idea gained momentum the following spring during an open forum with CSU Chancellor Timothy White. Before a crowd of more than 300 students, faculty, and staff, Garland asked the Chancellor for his endorsement of Tuffy’s Pantry. That assuredness landed him a spot on a 27-member task force, co-chaired by Human Services professor Kristi Kanel, that was created to examine the issues of food and housing insecurity on campus. Garland helped author a project proposal to former CSUF President Mildred García and other campus leaders as part of his work with the group.

Today, Garland’s original vision has evolved into Tuffy’s Basic Needs Center. Dedicated to helping students who experience food or housing insecurity and other hardships, the Center promotes wellness and offers support—food assistance, short-term housing, hygiene products, professional clothing, emergency grant funds and off-campus social services—that enables students to complete their education.

Why is addressing community needs important?

We are all a part of one or more communities. I believe it is important to support community members because, in my experience, the time will come when we’ll need some type of support.  By supporting each other, we strengthen the bonds that bind our communities.

How did your experience at HHD prepare you for your work spearheading CSUF’s food pantry initiative?

HHD prepares its students to address community needs through “helping professions.”  Whether students are preparing for careers in nursing or to serve others as social workers, the intent is to empower others by addressing needs. And that was the intent of the food pantry initiative. HHD students are supported, guided, and mentored in their community engagement efforts.

What did you learn through working on Tuffy’s Pantry?

I learned the importance of follow-through.  I began advocating for the pantry in my senior year of undergrad but, because of scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t as involved during my graduate studies. While I’m very happy that we now have a basic needs center that helps students get meals, I would have liked for an actual food pantry to be a part of the effort.

What do you hope to accomplish with your master’s degree?

Ultimately, whether I’m working in an administrative, policy, or direct service position, I would like to be a part of a leadership effort that either introduces new programs, builds agencies, or advocates for pro-social, pro-community, pro-inclusion policy changes. I want to make a difference.