By Dixie Reid
The gift of tamales from a local grocery store brought Christina Pinales unexpected joy when the COVID-19 pandemic kept her away from home and family traditions during the holidays.
Pinales, a resident advisor at the Upper Eastside Lofts, is one of 50 Sacramento State students living in campus housing over the winter break. Most are housed in the on-campus American River Courtyard.
With Dining Services and campus eateries closed for the break, students were left to fend for themselves.
Thanks, however, to a special program created by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg's office, students have received regular deliveries of restaurant meals and groceries since Dec. 19. The program, created for the University, continues to give them two meals a day during the week and groceries each weekend through Friday, Jan. 22.
“The Sac State Student Winter Break Meal Program is another connection between our city and our future: the students of Sacramento State. Food is medicine, and this program affords our chefs the resources to show how much we care for the physical and mental health of our Hornets.”
“Mayor Steinberg has come through for Sacramento State once again,” said University President Robert S. Nelsen. “In fact, all of Sacramento has come through for Sacramento State. The restaurateurs are amazing, and the food is even more amazing.”
Restaurants participating in the Sac State Student Winter Break Meal Program are: Alaro Craft Brewery & Restaurant, Ambrosia Catering, Canon, Mulvaney’s B&L, and Urban Roots Brewing. Prime Time Nutrition provides grocery items on weekends.
The Raley’s supermarket on Fair Oaks Boulevard near campus donated pork and chicken tamales during Christmas week.
“The tamales really hit home for me,” said Pinales, a Criminal Justice major. “Many Hispanic cultures gather with their families to make tamales for Christmas and New Year’s. However, because of the pandemic, I was sad that we couldn’t have our tradition this year.
“When our community manager comes walking in the office with brown bags and says, ‘Tamales!’ I was like, what? And when I bit into that tamale, all those memories ran through my mind. I was so happy that I even called my mom to tell her.”
This is the second time in recent months that the Mayor’s Office has arranged to feed Sacramento State students in need. In late April, soon after the campus closed and classes moved online because of the pandemic, Steinberg’s staff arranged for the founder of the Broderick Roadhouse chain to deliver 6,000 restaurant-prepared, packaged meals for students over four consecutive weeks.
Even before the pandemic hit, nearly half of Sac State’s students had experienced food insecurity. Matters worsened as students, and often their family members, lost their jobs and struggled to get enough to eat.
A $20,000 grant from the city’s Justice for Neighbors program, which collects fines from nuisance-property owners, paid for ingredients and meal preparation by Broderick Roadhouse.
A $50,000 grant from Justice for Neighbors funded the current program to feed 60 students, including those living in campus housing.
“Mayor Steinberg and our team are in regular contact with President Nelsen and the University,” said Julia Burrows, the mayor’s senior policy advisor. “Making sure that students are healthy, both physically and mentally, is a priority for the city. Providing restaurant meals is one way we can ensure that they are eating well and that they know their city and community care for them.
“The shelter-in-place order added to the need,” Burrows said, "and we wanted to be sure that they were well-fed while staying in the residence halls and preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
With no campus dining available during winter break, Pinales said students probably would have ordered restaurant delivery through services such as Door Dash. That can get expensive for students on a budget.
“I’d like to thank the Mayor’s Office, the city attorney, and the participating restaurants and stories for providing meals and groceries to the Sac State student community,” Pinales said. “If not for them, we may have had students struggling with having the finances to eat.”
Another benefit from the Winter Break Meal Program is that students get to experience some of Sacramento’s top restaurants, said Samuel Jones, interim executive director for University Housing Services.
“This collaboration with the Mayor’s Office has truly benefited our students,” Jones said. “Typically, during winter break, our dining is closed and students need to figure out how to get meals. It’s nice to have two meals per day and groceries provided.”
Among the restaurant meals enjoyed by the students over winter break were lunch from Canon featuring cheddarwurst sausages on house-made brioche buns served with red-potato salad, and dinner of slow-braised carnitas tacos with house-made salsa and Latin rice and beans. Both meals could be reheated in a microwave.
One day, Alaro made roasted turkey sandwiches for lunch and a roasted kale-and-chicken salad, along with homemade pub chips.
“The program, of course, also benefits local restaurants that are likely struggling because of the pandemic,” Burrows said.
“The Sac State Student Winter Break Meal Program is another connection between our city and our future: the students of Sacramento State,” she said. “Food is medicine, and this program affords our chefs the resources to show how much we care for the physical and mental health of our Hornets.”
Delivering food to campus over 25 days are staff from the Mayor's Office and the offices of Vice Mayor Jeff Harris, Councilmember Rick Jennings, and Congresswoman Doris Matsui. Representatives from the Sacramento City Unified School District’s Nutrition Services Department also have volunteered.
Burrows generally delivers groceries on Wednesdays and had the help of her college-age children over the holidays.