Cal Dining’s Bear Market now accepts CalFresh debit cards

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Aren Saunders-Gonzalez/File

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Cal Dining’s Bear Market now accepts CalFresh Electronic Benefit Transfer Debit Card, or EBT, which provides aid to food-insecure students.

Bear Market is the first Cal Dining location to accept EBT, a free debit card offered by CalFresh to students who apply through the nonprofit Code for America. CalFresh offers government food stamps in California and has recently expanded into colleges, according to the Alameda County Community Food Bank Outreach Supervisor Cristina Torres. UC Berkeley is one of Alameda County Community Food Bank’s biggest partners, Torres added.

According to Torres, the campus’s Basic Needs Security Committee promoted CalFresh to students while the Alameda County Community Food Bank’s team helped facilitate student applications and enrollments into CalFresh. Torres said that because of this effort, the program has grown rapidly in the last three years.

“CalFresh is an essential component to our campus basic needs efforts. … We have to maximize access to nutritious & affordable vendors that accept EBT,” said Ruben E. Canedo, chair of the UC Berkeley Basic Needs Security Committee, in an email.  “It’s not an easy process to complete. Cal Dining supports our food pantry efforts and now this EBT market; we are honored by their growing commitment to basic needs.”

In 2015, 41 UC Berkeley students were enrolled in CalFresh — this number grew to 111 students in 2016 and almost 700 students in 2017, Torres said. The food bank’s team initially visited campus once a month in 2015 but now holds two separate application workshops every Friday.

The Berkeley Student Food Collective also accepts EBT, and according to Jeff Noven, a Berkeley Student Food Collective employee, about 15 percent of his customers use EBT and CalFresh to buy their food. This percentage shows the profound need within the campus community for programs like CalFresh, according to Noven.

“Bear Market is an awesome addition to the CalFresh program because it provides more options for those who have benefits,” said UC Berkeley sophomore Jenifer Lomeli-Quintero in an email. “Some students don’t have the means to purchase a meal plan but if they have CalFresh they are still able to use these facilities.”

UC Berkeley junior Joshua Gonzalez used to frequent the UC Berkeley Food Pantry last semester, which often held workshops about applying to CalFresh. Though he is well-informed about the program, Gonzalez has never applied partly because of the length of the application process.

To Noven, however, CalFresh allows students to get fresh produce, bulk foods and items produced by the Berkeley Student Food Collective kitchen.

“We and the UC Berkeley community have to continue to make strides to create a fundamentally access-oriented food system,” Noven said. “CalFresh and other supplemental assistance is an integral part of realizing that vision.”

Contact Yao Huang at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Yhoneplus.

Correction(s):
Due to misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that as much as 40 percent of UC Berkeley students face food insecurity. In fact, Berkeley-specific data on the subject does not exist.

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