In 2016, Kaushik Nagaraj JD ’19 (then a Santa Clara Law 1L) was surprised to learn that some of his fellow law students did not have enough to eat. “I received the results of a food insecurity survey at law school. It noted that nearly 1 in 5 students were food insecure,” he says. “That really hurt me to the core.”
He decided he had to do something about it. “I got four of my friends together and we each would put in $10 per week, and we would buy groceries for our classmates. On our first day, we put out bread, peanut butter, jelly, Nutella, fruit, and canned soups so that people could make their own sandwiches and grab some food to take home. We were shocked when we saw a 30-minute line to make sandwiches. At that moment, we knew that we needed to find a way to serve the needs of our fellow students.”
SCU Law Eats was born, and Nagaraj served as founder and co-chair of the organization throughout his time at Santa Clara Law. Jill Klees, then director of Student Life at Santa Clara Law, was the advisor to the student organization. Thanks to donations from law students, faculty, sponsors, as well as local companies such as Super Sweet Farms, Noah’s Bagels, and the Forge Farm, Nagaraj and his team of 14 students have helped to feed their fellow students in need. “Law school is a challenging environment as it is without the worry of trying to find where you next meal is going to come from,” says Nagaraj. “Once we knew our friends and other students needed help, we wanted to help in any way possible. It was the right thing to do and it was much needed.”
The Community Lounge & Terrace in Charney Hall houses the pantry and kitchen facilities for SCU Law Eats. This space was made possible through the generosity of Mary Alexander JD ‘82, a trial attorney who has been included in the Top 50 Women by Northern California Super Lawyers since 2006.
Some wonderful surprises awaited Nagaraj and his team. “When we started the program we had no idea that we would now be putting out food—breakfast and lunch—Monday through Thursday throughout the semester,” he says. “We also had no idea how many people it would positively impact.”
“Our founding board and team has invested hundreds if not close to a thousand hours collectively to make this program a success, building new partnerships with donors and getting buy-in from all the important faculty, staff, and administrators at the Law School and University levels,” says Nagaraj. “The best moments that we have experienced together were when we would all meet at 8am on Thursdays to make Stone Soup together, and then people would come up to us after they had some and thank us for what we do. Knowing that we are making a positive impact and leaving a legacy of service to our school is the best feeling in the world. Also, knowing that our program has helped students to not go hungry is a great feeling,” he says.
HISTORY OF HELPING
The Santa Clara Law community has a long history of helping its students. The late Mary B. Emery JD ’63, who served at Santa Clara Law from 1963-2011 in a variety of roles including professor, library director, and associate dean (1987-2011), founded and helped to disperse an informal and confidential law student emergency fund. “It was for fairly small amounts, around $500, and it had to be paid back, but the loan was without interest and the payback timeline was flexible,” recalls Julia Yaffee, who served at Santa Clara Law for 30 years (1984-2014), in various roles but most recently as Senior Assistant Dean for External Relations. “It benefited a lot of people—students who ran out of grocery money, or had no money to take the bus home for the holiday, or couldn’t make their rent by a small amount,” she says. Yaffee adds that the Jesuits and the Santa Clara Law faculty have also stepped in to help students when things got rough. “Once we had a law student living in his truck,” says Yaffee, “and another time there was a student who lived in a two bedroom apartment with 10 family members, so there was no space or quiet to study. Faculty members stepped in to help both of these students with those situations.”
“Our law students take good care of each other,” says Susan Erwin, senior assistant dean for student services at Santa Clara Law. “If they know of someone in need, they let us know and we reach out.” Erwin says that whenever the Law School has asked for help for students, they have received assistance from the University, the Jesuits, and the Law School faculty and staff, as well as fellow students. “Donations have included temporary housing, money, food, grocery store gift cards, textbooks, and even household supplies,” she says. “Every time my office has reached out to the law school community for support, they have generously answered the call.”
FOOD FOR FUTURE LAW STUDENTS
“I am so thoroughly impressed with where Santa Clara Law Eats has taken the initial Stone Soup program,” says Klees. “The students who got involved and created this organization around food insecurity for our community have created a very dynamic program and taken it to places I never would have imagined. These students have shown themselves to be so passionate, energetic, willing to help their own fellow students, willing to put in their own time, and willing to put in their own money, initially. I am so excited to see it continue to grow into the future,” she says.
While Nagaraj graduated this past May and is heading off to start his career, he feels confident that this service organization will continue to help law students in need. Thanks to recent fundraising from the Law Advisory Board (LAB) more than $29,000 has been pledged to the program. “We are immensely surprised and thankful for the new donations that have come into the program for this upcoming year and years to come,” he says, adding “I am grateful for the amazing friendships and the SCU Law family that we have built since the start of the program.”
To learn more about SCU Law Eats and meet some of the students involved, see this video:
You can also visit SCU Law Eats on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SCULawEats/
Every little bit helps! To make a donation to SCU Law Eats visit: https://mysantaclara.scu.edu/givenow?designation=Santa Clara Law&subdesignation=SCU Eats – Law