Asia is pursuing a career in astrophysics and hopes to become a research scientist at NASA someday, but it’s been a long road to UC Berkeley, where she is currently studying for her degree. Five years ago she was homeless and pregnant with her second child. She was working 40 hours a week at a childcare facility, but with the high cost of housing in Silicon Valley, she didn’t earn enough to cover food, rent, child care and other basic necessities. Asia credits much of her success to the help she received from Second Harvest of Silicon Valley and other organizations.
“Second Harvest was crucial,” Asia said. “The thing I really liked about the food bank was the variety it provided, especially because I didn’t have a refrigerator when I was homeless. We had some healthy canned food and some peanut butter. Peanut butter was awesome; we used it a lot. Also veggies and fruit.”
Asia and her husband came to California from Florida five years ago for the promise of a job. When that didn’t pan out, they found themselves without work or a place to live. Asia got a job working at a daycare center, where her son, now six years old, could receive care at a discount.
“The new job required that I begin classes in child development at the local community college,” she said. “That is initially what brought me to Mission College. I worked full time and took six units. Food was a huge issue because we lived between motels and campgrounds as money allowed. We often didn’t have a kitchen.”
Soon Asia was connected to Second Harvest’s monthly grocery distribution at Mission College, where she could receive free food for her family.
“My kids love the food Second Harvest provides,” Asia said. “They’re big fans of corn and peanut butter, of course. Kids love the peanut butter and jelly.”
She added, “My daughter likes everything, like brussel sprouts. She loves brussel sprouts. It’s really cool. I’ve never seen a kid love brussel sprouts so much. I cook them on the stove in some olive oil or butter and just basic salt and pepper. She eats them all. She likes broccoli, too. She’s a fan of carrots. My son likes the fruit and yogurt.”
At first, Asia was working during the day and taking night classes at Mission College. Soon she learned there was a childcare center on campus that charged fees on a sliding scale.
“I was able to enroll my son for a much, much lower fee,” she said. “We moved into an apartment just before my daughter was born, and I was able to enroll her as well under the same family fee. This allowed me to take classes full time and have my children on campus, which was a necessity since I also took the bus for an hour to get to campus.”
Asia added, “It really did mean a lot to have groceries, because when you look at the cost for that, especially when you have kids and you have to buy certain things, it can be really high. It can be $300 or $600 a month at times. That’s a huge expense on top of rent.”
With the high cost of living in Silicon Valley, many college students struggle to pay for school and housing, let alone food, and their futures can be jeopardized when they lack access to the
nutritious food they need to perform well in class. Through its partnership with local colleges, Second Harvest is ensuring that these students – and their families – can get the healthy food they need to thrive.
After attending Mission College for two years, Asia switched her major from child development to astrophysics. “Having access to all of these wonderful resources allowed me to pursue my lifelong interest in astrophysics,” she said.
“Berkeley was always a top choice for me as one of the top schools for astrophysics. I was surprised to get in, but I’ve always worked hard and used the time and resources available to help me focus on my studies. You just have to keep going; keep putting one foot in front of the other.” Asia is currently attending UC Berkeley through a work-study program that provides financial aid.
“I think it’s important that Mission College has resources like the food bank because everybody has a different situation and everybody is going to need some kind of different resource,” she added. “To someone trying out the food bank for the first time who is embarrassed possibly, I would say you should be proud to seek out these resources. You’re going to get to a better place, and it’s going to help you get there.”
Mission College Staff