College students are hungry. For some time, the accepted explanation for student hunger has been “it’s just part of the typical, struggling college-student experience.” However, this narrative that college students are supposed to survive on the cup-of-noodles diet undermines the reality that many students do not have consistent access to nutritious food, go to bed hungry some nights, and/or have to choose between paying rent and buying groceries each month. According to the University of California’s 2017 Global Food Initiative report, 48% of UC undergraduate and 25% of graduate students “experience some level of food insecurity.” Given these alarming statistics, it is important that universities not only offer food security resources to students, but also increase awareness of and access to these resources in a destigmatized environment. So where are these resources at UCLA? And do students know about UCLA’s rich basic needs landscape? That’s where the CalFresh Initiative at UCLA comes in.
So what is CalFresh? CalFresh is California’s version of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), a federally-funded food assistance program, colloquially known as food stamps. Thanks to recent legislation, parts of CalFresh have been tailored to meet the specific needs and experiences of college students, allowing eligible students to receive up to $192/month for groceries. Most students qualify for CalFresh if they have work study, receive CalGrant A or B, have a child, or work over 20 hours per week outside of UCLA. After completing the application process with a Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) eligibility worker and receiving approval, students receive an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card, which is re-loaded monthly and functions as a debit card in participating grocery stores (Ralphs, Target, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods all accept EBT!). Given the benefits of CalFresh and the large percentage of students who are food insecure, it is problematic that only 2% of UCLA students who are eligible for CalFresh are enrolled (according to data provided by DPSS). The CalFresh Initiative at UCLA aims to increase awareness of and enrollment in CalFresh among students.
Keeping UCLA CalFRESH
The CalFresh Initiative at UCLA was brought to campus last year by UCLA’s Global Food Initiative Fellows in order to streamline the CalFresh application process for students. In addition to our daily outreach, the CalFresh Initiative at UCLA hosts quarterly CalFresh enrollment days, bringing several DPSS workers to campus in an effort to boost enrollment and make the application process more accessible for students. This quarter, we partnered with other organizations on campus to expand from just a CalFresh enrollment day to a broader Basic Needs Resource Fair, where students could learn about the landscape of on-campus resources — and pick up free food bundles! Some of the organizations tabling at the fair were SWC Bruin Necessities, BruinDine, Imperfect Produce, Financial Wellness Peers, California Lifeline with Cafe 580 (free cellphones and cellphone plans), Swipe Out Hunger, and the USAC External Vice President office who were phone banking for SB 900, which would grant more CalFresh dollars to fresh produce.
Over the past three enrollment fairs, about 300 UCLA students have enrolled in CalFresh. Since starting the CalFresh Initiative at UCLA last year, we have also helped about 400 students apply for CalFresh via email. We are thrilled to share that starting March 5th of this quarter, for the first time ever, we will have a CalFresh eligibility worker from DPSS on campus in the Student Activities Center (SAC) every first and third Monday of the month to enroll students in CalFresh through private appointments. Although anyone can apply for CalFresh anytime online, applying through an in-person appointment is a much simpler and more efficient process. Fill out this pre-screening tool to find out if you are eligible for CalFresh and to see what verification documents you need to apply. Then sign up here for an on-campus CalFresh enrollment appointment. Check out our infographics below for more details.
Beyond the basic needs infrastructure and resources that UCLA offers, CalFresh enrollment provides a sustainable solution for food insecure students that is not limited by university hours and buildings. CalFresh recipients can comfortably choose what they would like to eat from a grocery store, and are not limited to buying cheap, and often unhealthy, food.
Our team at the CalFresh Initiative is working towards the day when CalFresh is a destigmatized conversation, and when the most important worry on students’ minds is their next midterm and not their next meal.
Some important, readily available food security resources on or near campus are:
Contact the CalFresh Initiative at UCLA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like us on Facebook at UCLA CalFresh Initiative.
Shelly Dieu is the Global Food Initiative Fellow leading the CalFresh Initiative at UCLA. She conducts research with the School of Public Health and is a third-year Geography/Environmental Studies major and Geographic Information Systems and Food Studies minors.
Sienna Rohrer is the Outreach Coordinator at the CalFresh Initiative at UCLA. She is a second-year Geography/Environmental Studies major and likely Geographic Information Systems and Food Studies minors.