The UC Berkeley Food Pantry, a collective effort of various organizations around campus, opened its doors Monday to provide free food to UC Berkeley students facing food insecurity.
The Food Pantry was born out of UC Student Regent-designate Sadia Saifuddin’s hopes to alleviate food insecurity on campus and the social stigma that surrounds the issue. Forty-seven percent of surveyed undergraduate students skipped a meal at least occasionally to save money in 2011-12, according to data from the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey.
“The vision of the Food Pantry is to serve as an emergency relief for students who are struggling (financially),” Saifuddin, a former ASUC senator, said. “It is serving a function that was going unfulfilled.”
Located in Stiles Hall, the Food Pantry carries nonperishable items, including cereal, canned fruits and other packaged foods, and operates five days a week. Any UC Berkeley student — undergraduate or graduate — lacking the financial means of obtaining food can stop by with his or her student ID card during its open hours and choose up to three food items.
A similar service called the Bear Pantry — a food bank exclusively for low-income UC Berkeley student parents — opened in 2009.
Cal Dining, which can buy food in bulk, acquires all of the food for the pantry with grant money from the campus. Student coordinators, who receive stipends, and volunteers help out with the operations of the pantry.
Saifuddin’s concern about food insecurity on campus inspired her to author a senate bill in March 2013 to gain official support from the ASUC Senate for the initiative. The pantry was modeled on similar existing services at other UC campuses, including UC Davis.
But the UC Berkeley Food Pantry is “trying out a new model of food pantry in a university located in a densely populated, urban area,” said ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack, who helped the pantry apply for grants and secure a location.
During its soft launch phase this semester, the pantry hopes to determine the needs of students and figure out what items are more popular than others, Saifuddin said. In the future, it hopes to work with other campus organizations to secure a refrigerator and freezer and provide local and organic produce for students.
Seth Rainha, a UC Berkeley freshman, stopped by the pantry Wednesday afternoon after reading about it on Facebook. As the end of the academic year is approaching, Rainha said he is running out of meal points and that the pantry is a great idea that serves students like him.
“The Food Pantry is here and open,” said Ruben Canedo, who is involved with one of the pantry’s partner organizations. “There is love and support in the space, and it’s going to be a positive experience for everyone involved.”