The pivotal impact of 's newly renamed Laurén Chalmers '83 Beach Pantry

Published March 18, 2024
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Student picking food items at Beach Pantry
A student picking food items at theLaurén Chalmers ’83 Beach Pantry.

During her first two years at Cal State Long Beach, Teresa Falcon lived in the dormitories and would get breakfast in the morning. Sometimes, she would go the rest of the day without eating, because she couldn’t afford it.

“When you’re hungry, you can’t think,” said the third-year psychology major. “When you’re hungry, you can’t make rational decisions. That’s the reality of the situation.”

But through her experience on , she discovered the , and began taking advantage of free food, toiletries and supplies for students.

“I think it is such an amazing part of campus, because a lot of students may not have the means to really succeed in both their academics and … where they’re getting their next meal,” said Falcon, who’s now ASI vice president. “So, this really provides a way for students to get healthy and get more diverse access to meals. It’s an important part of student success.”

Founded in 2016, the Beach Pantry has helped thousands of Beach students with food ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to eggs, beans, rice, cereal and ramen. The pantry also offers free toiletries – such as shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry detergent and menstrual products – and school supplies for those in need.

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Lauren Chalmers cuts the ribbon at the ceremony
Laurén Chalmers cuts the ribbon at the renaming ceremony, surrounded by staff, alumni and students.

In fall 2016, the pantry served 473 students with 2,300 visits. Since then, it has grown exponentially, serving 2,783 students with 14,547 visits in fall 2022, and 3,935 students with 22,253 visits in fall 2023.

“We’ve really seen a growth of the need for the program, especially since the pandemic,” said Christina Limón, manager of the Beach Pantry. “We just came back from a conference – students are facing food insecurity on up to half of their campuses.”

The Beach Pantry was recently renamed in honor of Laurén Chalmers ’83, who provided a major gift to create an endowment. It’s only the third pantry in the CSU system to be named after a donor (after CSU Fresno and San Bernardino). A naming ceremony and ribbon-cutting were held on March 8.

“I really hope that it will allow students to not have to go down the road I went down,” said Chalmers, who said she was hungry and experienced food insecurity through many of her years at The Beach. “I’m really hopeful that people don’t go to bed hungry. It’s wearing; I was worn out mentally by it. If I had something like the Beach Pantry during my time, it would have been a game changer.”

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Fruits and vegetables at the Beach Pantry
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Shelves at the Beach Pantry

Chalmers’ gift is helping the university in its mission to create a national model for student achievement, empowerment and equity, which is a key priority of the comprehensive No Barriers fundraising campaign.

“By providing resources that will help current and future generations stay healthy and stay nourished – they can focus on their studies, earn their degrees, and succeed after graduation,” President Jane Close Conoley said at the ceremony. “The endowment provided by Laurén and (husband) Trace will have a positive impact on our campus, for sure, but also on our wider communities.”

As the Laurén Chalmers ’83 Beach Pantry grows, it is also expanding special projects, such as the and the Mobile Pantry. The Beach Kitchen – located on the third floor of the University Student Union in the former University Dining Plaza, next to the Nugget – provides lessons for students on how to cook healthy meals with pantry ingredients, especially fresh vegetables. In fall 2023, the Beach Kitchen served 675 students – 75 more than it did a year earlier.

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Mobile Pantry on campus

And the Mobile Pantry is taking the Beach Pantry on wheels to where the students are – the library, the dormitories, study areas, plazas and the . “We just kind of just pop up,” Limon said. “We’re looking to focus on reaching students who don’t know about us.”

In fall 2023, the Mobile Pantry served 872 students – 602 more than it did in fall 2022.

Katie McPherin, a mother and fourth-year student in English education, said the Beach Pantry has made a huge difference in her life, and in the life of her 18-month-old son Milton.

“Not only does the Beach Pantry offer everyday essential items for students like me, but they also offer baby food and diapers, which really takes so much stress off of the everyday academic pressure which comes with being in school,” said McPherin, 38. “I can really focus more on my academic studies now. And I’m so proud to say that I have received straight A’s during my time here.”

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Katie McPherin holds her son Milton
Fourth-year English education student Katie McPherin holds her son Milton at the Beach Pantry renaming ceremony.