UC Berkeley expands efforts to decrease food insecurity through CalFresh program

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Kevin Chan/Staff

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UC Berkeley is expanding its basic needs services — particularly relating to food access through the UC Berkeley Food Pantry and the state CalFresh program — in an effort to decrease food insecurity among students.

CalFresh is a supplemental nutrition assistance program that issues a free debit card for groceries to people who are eligible. There are approximately 10,000 to 12,000 students on campus who potentially qualify for this program, according to campus basic needs committee chair Ruben Canedo, and 1,366 students applied last year. He said the campus is working to expand this program and hopes to receive 3,000 applications this year.

“The challenge has been that, historically, college students haven’t been eligible for work-study and CalFresh,” Canedo said. “We’ve focused on policies so we can better educate county and state leaders about how much our college students are experiencing economic insecurity and that they need CalFresh in order to support their basic needs.”

The campus partnered with the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which has a CalFresh outreach team that comes to campus to host application sessions and provide case management for students eligible for the program. Canedo said this helps ensure that students have the best results possible in their application process.

The UC Berkeley Food Pantry was also upgraded over the summer to accommodate the 4,600 students that utilize its resources, according to Canedo. He added that the pantry’s outreach has also increased, as New Student Services, the financial aid office and campus counselors are working to make sure students are aware of the food pantry.

“There has been a drastic increase in the community being supported by our pantry,” Canedo said. “More students are coming, but most only come three to four times a year because they know the pantry is mainly for emergencies. We don’t have students who abuse or disrespect that agreement.”

Throughout the UC system, 44 percent of undergraduates and 26 percent of graduate students said they were food insecure, meaning they did not have regular access to food because of a lack of funds or other resources, according to a December 2017 report from the UC Global Food Initiative.

In addition to expanding CalFresh, the campus will also be opening a basic needs center next to the UC Berkeley Food Pantry in January 2019 to provide students with resources and workshops in one centralized location, according to Canedo.

“Our biggest goal is to make our operational budget sustainable,” Canedo said. “If we have student leadership, a basic needs referendum and state funding come together, we can make basic needs sustainable now and for years to come.”

Amanda Bradford is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.