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Conversations with the Inspiring Andrea Gutierrez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrea Gutierrez.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am a proud UCI alumnus, class of 2015. A couple of months after graduation, a new position had been created at UCI to create the first campus pantry via a grant received from the UC Office of the President. Because as a student, I had been involved in projects to advocate for resources for students, I was really excited at the possibility of coming back to campus to create a new resource to tackle students’ basic needs insecurities. I had been one of those students who had challenges affording the living costs associated with my college education, and this work was very personal in a way (I was a non-traditional, first-generation, independent student). I started this work and within a week we opened the first small pantry.

While the space that was initially allocated for the pantry only allowed us to distribute non-perishable items, we knew that it was a starting point and that our goal was to expand the physical space and the type of services provided to address food and basic needs insecurity in a holistic way. In the first year of operations, I worked closely with student leaders and advised them and supported them in running a fee referendum campaign, which successfully passed creating permanent funding for this project.

Soon after, we received a larger space allocation. Once the funding and space were secured, I had the honor of leading the project of envisioning, creating, and building the FRESH Basic Needs Hub – a space that would host the expanded food pantry (full of fresh and healthy foods), life skills development workshops and trainings, a community kitchenette where students could make quick meals in between classes, and several other resources to support students in high need such as CalFresh (SNAP) application assistance, and Emergency Meal Swipe Program, and Emergency Grants. Today, we serve an average of 500 students per week via the FRESH Hub, and I am honored to run a 3000 sq. feet facility and supervise a team of 20 student staff to serve students who experience challenges affording their education. This resource on campus serves a changing college demographic where we have increasing numbers of low income and 1st generation college students, and who experience different challenges than their more privileged peers.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Not at all, in fact, even getting approval to open a pantry and distribute food to students was an unpopular idea at first. It required a lot of advocacy, data collection, and awareness raising so people could understand that many students were struggling with food insecurity and that we needed to do something about it. When we started, there was only a handful of studies exploring the issue on college campuses. But because this issue is so widespread in higher education across the U.S, we now have a lot more studies and more college campuses stepping up to do something about it. We also had to overcome a lot of risk-issues and had to be very careful in designing our programs so that students would actually feel comfortable asking for help. Sometimes, I felt like I was under a lot of pressure to prove that these resources needed to exist, to always think and worry about safety, and to do it in a way that was educational and empowering. In overcoming the challenges, I had to be very patient and persistent, I prioritized listening to students so I could design a program with their experiences in mind, and I had to work really hard and trust my abilities to lead and implement this program.

I would say to young women starting their careers that they should never doubt themselves, that they should trust their intelligence and intuition and lead with their hearts. I would also say that it’s important to speak their truth and be passionate about whatever they are doing so that when challenges and obstacles arise, they are able to find ways to go around it and whether it is through persistence or creativity, overcome the challenges and reach their goals.

what should we know about FRESH Basic Needs Hub? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I manage the operations and programmatic activities of the FRESH Basic Needs Hub at UC Irvine. This includes supervision of student and professional staff, fostering relationships with community and campus partners, fundraising, and planning awareness and service events. In addition, I provide consultations to students experiencing basic needs insecurity to provide resources and referrals.

I am most proud of the space we have created at the hub. We envisioned a place that would go beyond providing food and would provide a supportive and welcoming environment where students would feel safe and cared for. I am proud that we have accomplished that vision by focusing on not only the look and feel of the space but also in the human day-to-day interactions. We treat our clients with respect and love and that creates a very positive environment for our staff and our clients.

I think what sets me apart is that I lead with compassion and genuine care for the well-being of others. I am an energetic and charismatic leader who provides love and support to those around me. My staff often tell me that they are inspired to work hard because they see how hard I work and how much I care about the work that we are doing.

Looking back on your childhood, what experiences do you feel played an important role in shaping the person you grew up to be?
I migrated to the US from Peru at the age of 15. As a teenager and recent immigrant, I had to learn a new language, adapt to a new culture, and form a new identity as a new member of this society. While leaving my country of origin was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, it also opened my mind to whole new perspective and understanding of our world. It helped me accept new ideologies and become a very adaptable person that can thrive in any environment. It taught me the lessons of not giving up on my goals no matter how many obstacles may appear along the way. It taught me to stay positive in the face of adversity and to be better appreciate my roots and journey.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.basicneeds.uci.edu
  • Email: andrea.g@uci.edu
  • Instagram: andrea_g1286
  • Facebook: facebook.com/agr12
  • Twitter: @andrea_g_12


Image Credit:

Gunindu Abeysekera, Derek De Los Angeles and Allen J. Schaben

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