UC Berkeley Food Pantry, Berkeley Student Food Collective adjust health, safety standards

Photo of UC Berkeley Food Pantry
Jessica Schwabach/File
While the UC Berkeley Food Pantry previously operated in the basement of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, since the pandemic began, it has expanded operations upstairs to continue serving the campus community amid the pandemic.

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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UC Berkeley Food Pantry and the Berkeley Student Food Collective, or BSFC, have adjusted their health and safety standards to provide food and other resources to campus and the Berkeley community.

The Food Pantry, which is a part of the campus Basic Needs Center and aims to provide food to students in need of emergency assistance, has seen an increase in demand in the first weeks of the semester, according to Food Resource Coordinator Natalia Semeraro. 

“Even if we run out of one item, we always have food, so we will never close due to lack of supply!” Semeraro said in an email.

The pantry previously operated in the basement of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. However, since the pandemic began, it has expanded operations upstairs, according to campus junior and Basic Needs Center Outreach Lead Tessa Stapp.

The Food Pantry has made modifications to its typical setup in order to adhere to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and campus as well as its own COVID-19 protocols, including ensuring a distance of 6 feet between visitors, having volunteers bag groceries and increasing hours of operation to accommodate heavy foot traffic, according to Stapp.

Cal Dining supported the pantry at the start of the pandemic by hosting grocery bag packing and distribution, Stapp added.

The pantry has seen public support from the Berkeley community through paper bag donations, and according to Semeraro, it is open to receiving monetary donations and volunteers.

“Our dream is to move as many people as possible onto long term food assistance programs like CalFresh or the Food Assistance Program for undocumented and international students, as well as a dream of a living wage across the board,” Stapp and Semeraro said in an email.

BSFC, a nonprofit student-run grocery store that was founded to protest against fast-food restaurants, has also made changes since the start of the pandemic, according to Jeff Noven, executive director of BSFC.

Due to the pandemic, student volunteers at BSFC decided to suspend in-person food production, Noven said.  

“As a grocery store that is governed by students, it is imperative on our end to focus principally on vision and value that students had for that food provision,” Noven added.

Without distributing food, BSFC has shifted its focus to educating the community online about social issues through means including workshops on anti-oppressive work in food systems and by introducing members to a social justice vocabulary, according to Noven.

Noven added that it is likely the store will not return to in-person food production at least for the fall semester because students feel it is not safe to reopen until there is greater control over COVID-19 in the campus community.

“I think we’re really going to see students really stepping up during this time,” Noven said. “It’s really been a student-driven and student-led effort.”

Contact Shylie Ati at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shylieati.