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Our History

How it all began


The unprecedented challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic saw the emergence of Student LunchBox (SLB) as a beacon of hope for countless students struggling with the devastating effects of sudden campus closures, job losses, and financial hardships. Established in 2020 by Karlen Nurijanyan, the CEO and Founder whose personal journey is intertwined with the organization's mission, SLB has become a force for change in the fight against college hunger. Karlen's story begins in Armenia, where he grew up in poverty and experienced the daily struggles of food insecurity and hunger. In 2009, he made the courageous decision to immigrate to the United States in search of better opportunities. However, his challenges persisted as he enrolled at Santa Monica College (SMC). As a non-native English speaker, Karlen initially struggled to secure employment to support himself. Relying on financial aid and student loans, Karlen found that the most affordable yet unhealthy food options were vending machine snacks and inexpensive grilled cheese sandwiches. It was then that he realized the immense challenges faced by students, balancing the demands of academic excellence with the financial burdens of college life. Undeterred by the obstacles that stood in his way, Karlen dedicated nearly six hours a day to mastering the English language, and within a year, he was able to communicate clearly with his peers. Through his unwavering determination, Karlen secured his very first work-study job at the Modern Language Lab at Santa Monica College. With expenses for room and board, food, and transportation surpassing $1,400 per month in 2010, financial aid fell short, leaving Karlen with a harsh reality. There was no money left to cover food and other essentials like toiletries, hygiene kits, bedding, and other necessities. Despite applying for the Nutrition Assistance Program, he was denied due to his father's modest income, and the scarcity of nearby food pantries made access to support nearly impossible. Confronted with these adversities, Karlen set his sights on establishing a program that would support the college students who tend to be overlooked in discussions surrounding food assistance programs. It was during his time at SMC that the idea of Student LunchBox was born, a vision he carried with him as he pursued his bachelor's degree from the University of California Los Angeles and his Master's degree in Public Administration at California State University Long Beach. Armed with the skills and knowledge necessary to bring his dream to fruition, Karlen made the courageous decision to leave his corporate role in Project Management when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, recognizing that his true calling lay in building a movement to end campus hunger. Alongside his business partner Marco Gonzalez, Karlen poured his heart and soul into the development of Student LunchBox, working tirelessly day and night to lay the foundation for an organization that would change the lives of thousands of college students. Karlen invested his entire Economic Impact Payments to kickstart the process of incorporating SLB and beginning operations. The journey of Student LunchBox has been made possible through the unwavering support of dedicated donors like Co-opportunity Market, which fundraised for SLB at their checkout registers, allowing the organization to obtain its first cargo trailer for collecting food donations. Partnerships with Food Forward and the Food Bank of Southern California further propelled SLB's growth at an astonishing pace. Throughout this period of rapid growth, Karlen's dedication to the cause never wavered. He continued to work mornings at Trader Joe's and nights driving for Uber Eats, pouring all of his earnings into SLB to keep the organization afloat and ensure its success. In just two years, Student LunchBox grew from a fledgling initiative to a successful non-profit addressing food insecurity in Los Angeles County. With the endorsement of esteemed supporters, SLB achieved monumental milestones, expanding its services to CSU Long Beach and CSU Northridge as their very first partners. In under three years, additional supporters and donors made it possible for SLB services to reach an impressive ten institutions by the end of 2023. What sets SLB apart is its extensive network of partnerships, spanning institutions from San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, including CSU Long Beach, CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU Los Angeles, CSU Northridge, Los Angeles Pierce College, Los Angeles Valley College, Long Beach City College, CBD College, Wofford Denius UTLA Center for Entertainment & Media Studies, and NYU Los Angeles. This unique initiative underscores SLB's commitment to nurturing the academic and personal growth of every student, regardless of their background or the type of institution they attend. As Student LunchBox continues to grow, with several waitlisted partners eagerly anticipating the opportunity to receive services from Student LunchBox, including Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, Syracuse University Los Angeles, Emerson College, El Camino College, Rio Hondo College, Los Angeles Community College, East Los Angeles College and Ithaca College Los Angeles, the organization remains steadfast in its mission to ensure that no student is forced to choose between their education and access to basic needs. Through the tireless efforts of Karlen Nurijanyan and the dedicated student volunteers at SLB, a brighter future is on the horizon for countless college students across Los Angeles County and beyond. Student LunchBox stands as a testament to the power of personal struggle, unwavering dedication, and the transformative impact of a single vision in the face of adversity.

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