UC Berkeley Food Assistance Program brings attention to overlooked populations

Jihoon Park/Staff

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This semester, the UC Berkeley Food Assistance Program is targeting its support toward student populations it has determined to have the least access to financial resources.

The Financial Aid and Scholarships Office, UC Global Food Initiative and Food Security Committee developed the Food Assistance Program in partnership more than two years ago. Having received more than $200,000 in university funding since its creation, the program now aims to bring more attention to overlooked populations, including graduate students, independent students, student parents, international students, out-of-state students and undocumented students, among others.

This semester’s program — which officially started during the second week of October — was the first to make direct efforts to include all of these populations in its eligibility and outreach. When the program first began, there were minimal data about the number of students struggling with food insecurity, according to Ruben Canedo, the chair of the Food Security Committee.

The program provides financial aid counselors who talk with students about their financial aid package or the finances available to them. After determining how much a student requires, the counselors may immediately disburse money into the student’s Cal 1 Card.

Unlike in previous semesters, students who do not have financial aid may still be eligible for assistance.

“We know that some students don’t qualify for financial aid for family income, but have no relationship with their families,” Canedo said. “We want to be mindful of all of those things. … Food insecurity doesn’t (distinguish between) ethnicity, gender, sexuality or socioeconomic status.”

According to Selina Lao, ASUC student advocate, research for this program was conducted over the past year in part through the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, which recently began including questions about basic needs security. Other UC systemwide reports were also conducted to measure food insecurity among the student population.

Canedo said with their research, they aimed to identify which malnourished student populations have the least resources to support themselves.

“It is a big win for students who have been marginalized and vulnerable populations like myself, and (it brings up) lots of interesting intersectionalities about the issue of food insecurity,” said Anthony Carrasco, an ASUC senator who experiences food insecurity.

Carrasco said the issue is often not given the attention it deserves because food insecurity resources are often considered something only a certain population seeks out, with “shame and anxiety.” He noted that students in the past may have been able to support themselves for a full year with one job over the summer, but this is no longer feasible.

“Populations are sometimes missed and often overlooked in traditional programs,” Carrasco said. “(The Food Assistance Program) is a much more tailored program, and in that way, it’s an enormous strength.”

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.