UC Berkeley Food Pantry celebrates its 5th anniversary

Jessica Schwabach/Staff

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Thursday marked the five-year anniversary of the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, a resource center dedicated to helping campus students and staff who need immediate food assistance.

The Food Pantry, located on the basement floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, is open seven days a week and stocks both nonperishable canned or boxed food items along with fresh produce.

Campus junior Sam Good has been volunteering at the Food Pantry since her sophomore year and always tries to be “very nice” and “very positive” while on the job, encouraging patrons to add her on Facebook. Good added that she’s even had customers ask when her specific volunteer hours are.

“You get to obviously see people who are vulnerable,” Good said. “There’s nothing wrong with people coming in … it’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of.”

According to Good, before this semester, people could only come into the Food Pantry twice a month and take only five items excluding bread or produce. But this semester, Good said that system was abolished, and people can now take what they need whenever they want. Good said things are “a lot better” without the previous system and with more accessibility, but she noted the continued issue of running out of food.

About a week before the pantry’s anniversary, the Student Basic Needs referendum was passed in the 2019 ASUC elections, which aims to allocate more funding toward improving basic needs resources on campus. According to the referendum’s website, about 84 percent of the budget will go toward homeless student support and the Food Assistance Program, designed to match CalFresh assistance for “non-eligible” populations such as undocumented or international students. It will serve an additional 278 students at $192 per month for a year.

Approximately 11 percent of the fee revenue will go to supporting crisis resolution specialist staff as well as financial aid and scholarships staff to increase the disbursement of more food assistance applications.

ASUC Student Advocate Sophie Bandarkar sponsored the referendum and noted the importance of the Food Pantry in “day-of relief” from food insecurity. Bandarkar said she has referred many students to the Food Pantry, as it’s a “really amazing resource” for students who are hungry or may be skipping meals.

The Food Pantry has also held several events throughout the year, including a pop-up stand with free food on Sproul Plaza and an event for National Muffin Day in February, on which volunteers baked challah muffins for people in the community experiencing homelessness. Both Bandarkar and Good noted how the Food Pantry has expanded in recent years and how the amount of people coming in has increased.

“Everyone who is involved really tries to make it accessible to people on campus,” Good said. “A lot more people know it exists now than ever before.”

Sabina Mahavni covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabina_mahavni.