UC Berkeley Basic Needs Security Committee lobbies in Sacramento for funding increase

Zichen Zhao/Staff

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Representatives of the Hunger Free Campus Program asked for an increase in funding from the California Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, aiming to expand programs that currently allow students with food insecurity to have access to food on campus.

Ruben Canedo, UC Berkeley Basic Needs Security Committee chair, was in Sacramento on Wednesday for multiple legislative meetings; he was also in Sacramento on Tuesday, when he advocated for a funding increase. The Hunger Free Campus Program, included in the Budget Act of 2017, provided the UC system and the California State University system with $2.5 million through the state’s general fund, and the community college system with $2.5 million through Proposition 98 funds, to support the elimination of food insecurity on campuses.

“We (hope to have) showed how essential the funding is,” Canedo said. “The Hunger Free Campus funding was targeted for … emergency food, CalFresh, infrastructure and staffing.”

The Hunger Free Campus funding gave the UC Berkeley Basic Needs Security Committee, or BNSC, a total of $250,000, according to BNSC Finances and Accounting Coordinator Sally Liang.

BNSC is made up of administrators, faculty, staff, students and community leaders, with the goal of ending hunger and homelessness on campus. The two main programs the committee runs are CalFresh and the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, according to sophomore Sara Tsai, community programs coordinator for BNSC.

The committee’s funding goes toward operational costs, hiring staff members and paying for the printing and technology that the committee uses, Tsai said.

“For the food pantry to operate, we need to pay rent, we need to pay electricity, we need to pay for staff members in the BNSC community,” Tsai said. “Each order costs (about) $3,000, and I think they restock once or twice a week depending on the need and the volume of customers coming in.”

Use of the campus’s food availability programs has “increased tenfold in the past two years,” according to Tsai, yet BNSC’s funding has not reflected that growth.

Tsai added that Bank of the West also partners with BNSC, and the committee gets donations from local businesses, farms and gardens to stock its food pantry.

Although the organizations are completely independent of each other, BNSC also works closely with the Berkeley Student Food Collective and the Berkeley Food Institute to create more sustainable and accessible food for students, according to Berkeley Student Food Collective Executive Director Jeff Noven.

“The food collective sells the produce to the food pantry at cost, so the food collective doesn’t make any money,” Noven said. “(BNSC) understand(s) that there needs to be institutions in the areas that have food vending capacity that understand deeply the struggles that students are going through and prioritize access to food as one of their No. 1 priorities.”

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.