An overview of UC Berkeley’s basic needs services

photo of the UC Berkeley Food Pantry
Jessica Schwabach/File

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As we head into the fall semester, it’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of classes, clubs and social obligations. We tend to either forget about or struggle to gain access to basic needs — such as a nutritious diet, hygiene, sleep, mental wellness and physical health — that must be met in order for us to thrive as UC Berkeley students. Whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate student, staff or faculty member, there are a host of basic needs services on campus designed to ensure all of your needs are accounted for. 


This service awards eligible students — legal U.S. citizens or permanent residents between the ages of 18 and 49 who are mentally and physically able to work and enrolled in at least six class units — up to $234 per month that can be used for groceries. These cards are accepted at most main grocery stores, the Berkeley Student Food Collective and farmers markets, including the Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market. If you meet the eligibility requirements and are interested in applying, you can do so yourself on the CalFresh website, attend a virtual group application session or schedule an appointment with a CalFresh ambassador who will walk you through the process.

Berkeley Food Pantry

Another way to ensure that you are maintaining a nutritious diet is to visit UC Berkeley’s Food Pantry. This service is available to all campus students and staff in need — the only requirement to check out is a Cal ID. The food available here comes from a combination of purchases and donations from grocery stores, local gardens and other suppliers. The pantry is located in BNorth, Room 68, on the lower level of the MLK Student Union building. Like all services on campus, it is operating at a limited capacity due to COVID-19 guidelines and they are encouraging those with self-assessed needs to schedule a grocery pickup in advance.

Housing Resources

It’s no secret that housing in Berkeley is hard to come by and far from affordable. That’s why there’s a host of services available to UC Berkeley students, whether you require urgent relief, help with your housing search or legal advising. If you’re a currently enrolled student experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of losing your housing, check out the Emergency Housing program to find short-term housing. One-time and ongoing assistance is provided through Emergency Rental Assistance or the Housing Security Deposit Award, respectively. If you require assistance with legal matters, you can book an appointment with Berkeley’s Student Legal Services.

Safety and Self-Care

Apart from food and housing, ensuring one’s physical and mental well-being is key to success. When it comes to physical health, UC Berkeley’s University Health Services, or UHS, provides comprehensive services — primary and urgent care, pharmacy, laboratory, physical therapy, social services and radiology — to all registered students whether or not they are enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan. Students can manage appointments and send messages through the eTang patient portal, and there’s also an advice nurse available 24/7 for immediate concerns. 

In terms of mental health, UHS offers counseling groups, individual and couples counseling, online self-help tools and support spaces through its Counseling and Psychological Services at no starting charge. For specialized concerns, Social Services Counseling is available to all students regardless of their insurance plan. 

Another valuable resource is the PATH to Care Center, which uses prevention, advocacy and training to create a campus community free from sexual violence and harassment. This is done both through preventative efforts such as social norms campaigns and support for survivors that covers financial and basic needs, housing and emotional support, safe planning, medical needs and counseling.

Basic Needs Holistic Fund

If you find yourself in need of emergency support of any type, consider looking into the Basic Needs Holistic Fund. This fund may cover rental and food assistance, mental and medical health expenses, housing costs, technology expenses and emergency needs for students with dependents, as well as other emergency costs of living expenses — in short, everything except tuition and fees. After considering all of your resources, you can apply through a Google form accessible beginning Sept. 9 through the Basic Needs Center’s website and hear back within five days.

Get involved

None of these services would be available without the help of community volunteers and donations. If you’re interested in connecting students with these various resources and looking for some extra units, consider interning with the Basic Needs Center. Or, if you’re searching for ways to give fill your time by giving back to your community, you can volunteer directly at the Berkeley Food Pantry or with Berkeley Student Farms, whose produce gets donated to the pantry. There are also countless student organizations centered around helping those in our immediate and extended communities ensure their basic needs are met. 

Though this is not nearly a comprehensive overview of all the resources available to you as a UC Berkeley student, it should be enough to get you started. If the service you think you need isn’t listed below, you can check out the Resource Search Tool on the Basic Needs Center’s website to find more specific services, including resources for student parents, undocumented students, international students and staff and faculty. If you’re not yet sure which service you require, you can start by filling out the Basic Needs Assistance Form. With all these services in mind, we hope this semester will be one in which your basic needs and the needs of those around you are fulfilled.

Beatrice Aronson is the special issues editor. Contact her at [email protected].