Photo featuring John Ruff of Ventura College’s Basic Needs office
When we sat down to speak with John Ruff not even five minutes went by without a student coming to his office.
A new program on campus, Basic Needs, was started when the college was awarded money from the state to register students in CalFresh. The program was expected to see four to five students per day which quickly evolved to anywhere between 12 and 20 students daily. As student needs were revealed Ruff’s position expanded to running the food pantry, addressing housing needs, and becoming the go-to person on campus for students in need.
Ruff has created partnerships with local stores such as Lassens and Walmart and is constantly looking to expand resources provided through the program.
The food pantry is a community resource open to anyone, not just students; 1200 -1500 pounds of food are provided to the community every week. As if that is not enough Ruff is working with local non-profits like Food Forward to get fresh produce into the pantry.
“What did you eat last night?,” Ruff asks students. If they are not able to tell him, he takes them to the pantry. A VC alum John Ruff came to the college to play football. He remembers living off of sourdough bread. Despite food insecurity he says Ventura College was “unreal,” with cool people all around and perfect weather Ventura was like “heaven on earth.”
Because he has been in their shoes he understands the challenges many student face meeting basic needs. The most important thing to Ruff is that students feel comfortable. The age range of students he serves is between 17 and 67. Basic Needs services even cover Ventura College East Campus in Santa Paula where Ruff delivers food bags in the morning and at night two times a month.
In nine months he has made a huge impact by doing innovative things such as working with the food truck vendors to create and secure food vouchers for students in need. As the program grows the coordinator would like to see more needs met. An increasing number of students are self-reporting as homeless. He envisions having pods on campus where students can sleep. For now, Ruff works with homeless students and staff making sure they have lockers and access to showers on campus.
The presence of the program and demand for services speaks to the challenges many students are facing. This is the first part of a series covering the program and the work being done on campus to support students in a comprehensive way.