Students fight through food insecurity thanks to CalFresh at U.C. Berkeley

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ALAMEDA COUNTY (KRON) — Student fight through food insecurity at UC Berkeley Since the state loosened it’s guidelines for college students to be eligible for the CalFresh program, the Alameda County Community Food Bank says it’s seeing a sharp increase in students applying for free food.

At U.C. Berkeley, food insecurity is a real problem.

Tania Perez is entering her junior year at Cal and just moved off-campus for the first time.

She was food secure her first two years in the dorms but as she applies for jobs, it’s tough not to notice an alarming trend.

Students choosing between books and meals, tuition or a roof over their head.

Fortunately for Perez, the state’s food assistance program called CalFresh has relaxed eligibility requirements for students in the past two years.

CalFresh is federally-mandated and state-supervised.

The Alameda County Community Food Bank sets up shop at the Basic Needs Center in the basement of Cal’s Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building every Friday when class is in session.

Outreach coordinators like Crystina Esparza sign people up for the program.

Acceptance is based on household size, income and expenses.

“They can get up to $192 for month for food and those can even double if they use them at farmers markets,” Esparza explains.

Esparza says the cost of a meal in the Bay Area is 25 percent higher than the national average.

Since the food bank started making stops at Cal and other college campuses.

It’s helped more than 1,600 students successfully sign up for CalFresh.

“We started helping seven students here on campus when we first started in 2015,” Esparza says. “Now, we’re helping an average of 90 students a month apply for the program. So, that’s a huge increase.”

The food bank also has a food pantry where everything is always free available to the entire student body near the Basic Needs Center. 

Perez tells KRON4 the program has taken a huge burden off of her.

“I don’t have to think, oh, like what am I gonna eat? Where am I gonna get my food from?” Perez said.

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