Berkeley’s normally bustling student population disappears from the campus during the summer, as students return to their homes, study abroad or greet sandy beach vacations. The city’s independent businesses, once faced with long lines that stretched out the door now face hardship from the loss of customers and struggle to make profit. The Berkeley Student Food Collective, however, is one store that has managed to power through this lull in summer business. Back in 2009, a group of students protested the allotment of a space on Lower Sproul to Panda Express and achieved success. The student group then expanded into a nonprofit storefront after being awarded a grant by the Green Initiative Fund. Now known as the Berkeley Student Food Collective, the store has grown exponentially each year. Products that can be purchased in the store fall under the guidelines of the Real Food Challenge: local, humane, organic and fair trade. The store is almost entirely volunteer-run. Students make up not only the majority of their customers but also the majority of this volunteer workforce, which is why summer can be such a burden on the small business.
Megan Svoboda, the operations manager of the collective, explained to us the state of the BSFC. Wearing a funky, bright yellow apron and a warm smile, she answered our questions while sometimes getting up to help a steady flow of customers.
“Things are still consistent. We are obviously making a lot less money than we are during the year, but it’s still pretty steady,” Svoboda said. “We’re doing fine!”
Svoboda began as a volunteer at the store last summer before she was elected manager in April.
“We got a lot of new members, which is really awesome,” Svoboda, said.
The collective has had a growing volunteer base, and it is now staying strong due to “a ton of new people who are going to be here for the summer, had time and had been interested in volunteering before.”
Svoboda expressed her appreciation for all of the volunteers, new and old, who have been dedicating a lot of their time to the store. She says most of these volunteers are students taking summer classes and the like.
“I do have a few new community members who are really wonderful and some people studying abroad who are here for the summer,” she added.
Yet even with the new help, having enough volunteers to fill the shifts can still be an issue. As operations manager, she still fulfills her regular hours but finds herself doing different tasks — such as cashiering or maintaining the storefront — that she normally wouldn’t do. Some store changes that have taken place affect hours and the product orders. The store opens an hour later and closes an hour earlier than usual, making the store’s open hours 10 a.m. to 9 a.m. And according to Svoboda, BSFC only receives fruits and vegetables twice a week, whereas during the school year, it gets them delivered every day.
“There’s not that many serious changes to policy or the structural organization,” Svoboda said. “I’ll be going out of town next week so I need to scrounge people up to cover all the shifts. Besides that, I’m just making sure I’m here every day to open and work the register.”
Fortunately, with summer sessions starting up, many students are returning to campus and eager to help ease the workload at the collective.
“I’m getting so many emails from people who are back, saying ‘I’m ready to work!’ So, I think it’s really hard to be general about the summer. June is particularly slow, but July and August will pick up a little more. People care about the collective, and everyone wants it to be open and see it is doing well. So people are taking the time to come in,” she said, smiling.
In fact, the store did little recruitment to maintain volunteers through the summer thanks to the community’s dedication for the local storefront and the boost from from the incoming students here for summer sessions.
“We could definitely use summer classes as an opportunity to get our name out there and introduce ourselves to new students!” Svoboda said. “Hey, if anyone’s interested…”
If you are interested in helping out the collective, it’s planning a ton of cool events for members this summer. If you sign up to be a volunteer, you can end up going to fun potlucks and the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer’s Market in July! There will also be a build-your-own-salad day in the store as well.
“We’re having a lot of events specifically because it’s summer, and we’re having a good time,” Svoboda said.