Food pantry, county food bank partner to feed more students

Regular deliveries of food, including free unlimited fresh produce, will begin arriving at the UC Berkeley Food Pantry starting next month as the result of the popular pantry’s new partnership with the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

In its new location at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, the pantry is seeing about three times as many visitors as it did a year ago. Last month, for example, 750 people visited the pantry, and on Dec. 2, before the start of Reading, Review and Recitation Week and the week of final exams, an all-time high of 200 students used the pantry in just one day.

Fresh produce will be among the regular items offered at the UC Berkeley Food Pantry starting in January. (UC Berkeley photo by Hulda Nelson)

Fresh produce will be among the regular items offered at the UC Berkeley Food Pantry starting in January. (UC Berkeley photo by Hulda Nelson)

“Our pantry has had a relationship with the food bank since last summer, when we starting picking up fresh produce there,” explains Ruben Canedo, chair of the campus’s Basic Needs Security Committee. “But since our move from Stiles Hall this past October, our user count has tripled, and we needed to reach out to the food bank for a whole different conversation. We became the first university that it’s worked with.”

Becoming a full-fledged member of the food bank, which provides food for about 240 nonprofit agencies in the county — including pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, childcare centers and after-school programs — was the solution, and “a great step in the right direction,” says Clarissa Broughton, the food bank’s direct distribution coordinator. Berkeley student parents in need at University Village also will be helped by the new arrangement.

“Membership gives the pantry all the benefits we offer,” she adds, “including unlimited free produce, as well as proteins and healthy shelf-stable items at — or, more likely, well below — cost. The pantry will now get weekly food deliveries from the food bank. This will greatly increase the amount of food it gets, while improving access.”

Broughton says the food pantry also will receive a large amount of free produce through a partnership the food bank has with the California Association of Food Banks, and may occasionally have access to other free products – including household and hygiene products – donated by food bank partners.

Among the services provided by the Alameda County Community Food Bank are mobile pantry distributions. (Photo courtesy of Alameda County Community Food Bank)

Among the services provided by the Alameda County Community Food Bank are mobile pantry distributions. (Photo courtesy of Alameda County Community Food Bank)

“Students really do enjoy seeing fresh produce in the pantry,” says undergraduate Carolyn Hsieh, operations coordinator at the campus food pantry. “If we want more produce than what’s delivered, and hopefully we’ll be able to work out getting shipments twice a month, we’ll have the freedom to continue with pickups (from the food bank) as needed.”

Broughton says the Alameda County Community Food Bank recently began working with two other schools — California State University, East Bay and Laney College — and that students often are the ones leading the conversation.

“It used to be that students had difficulty affording tuition and textbooks,” she says, “but today, it’s about the cost of housing. Our hunger studies show that students will pay for housing, utilities and other essential bills, but then start cutting out medication and food, which are the only things they can manipulate” to make ends meet.

“I’m glad to see students advocating for themselves and their schools,” she adds, “reaching out for help and trying to transcend the stigma of not wanting to be seen with a bag of groceries from a pantry. There’s a new focus on wellness and nutrition.”

“It’s so important to be able to take care of yourself and feed yourself, and it’s great to see so many people learning about the pantry and using it as a resource,” agrees Hsieh. “It’s our job at the pantry to keep up with the demand for food. The food bank was very willing to help.”