Students with a CalFresh electronic benefit transfer (EBT) debit card can now use it to purchase food at Cal Dining’s Bear Market, a campus mini-grocery store around the corner from the Café 3 dining hall at 2400 Durant Ave. Bear Market sells grab-and-go, microwavable and frozen meals, as well as snacks and beverages; students can buy cold food and groceries with the card.
“This is another major milestone for our campus basic-needs efforts,” says Ruben Canedo, chair of the UC Berkeley Basic Needs Committee. “We’re inspired to make all eligible food spaces on campus EBT-accessible.”
Last October, the campus began a major push to help an estimated 10,000 eligible Berkeley students apply to CalFresh, a federally funded nutrition program that issues a free debit card for groceries to those who qualify. Most individual college students who are eligible can receive up to $193 in benefits a month.
At Berkeley, at least 9,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students meet the criteria for CalFresh, and “10,000 is a conservative figure,” says Canedo. He added that because of the push last fall, “there’s been a 600 percent increase in CalFresh applications by Berkeley students since 2015-16.”
The Alameda County Community Food Bank runs the CalFresh program at UC Berkeley. Several of its members facilitate Berkeley’s frequent CalFresh clinics, where students get help applying for CalFresh benefits.
College students’ eligibility for CalFresh is based on factors that include whether the students are Cal Grant A or B recipients, Pell Grant recipients, eligible for federal work-study jobs or are in campus programs that support students from populations that historically experience basic-needs insecurity, including former foster youth, student-veterans and first-generation college-goers.
Canedo says he has met with Alameda County Social Services employees and representatives from the Alameda County Community Food Bank to make sure those being trained to review, approve and deny students’ applications for CalFresh are “at the forefront of CalFresh support for eligible college students.”
Berkeley’s partnership with the county to increase the number of students signing up for nutrition assistance already is “a proven model for colleges and universities across the state,” Canedo adds.
The CalFresh clinics are part of a comprehensive effort at Berkeley to help ensure that students can meet their basic needs. A campus basic needs security website focuses on six areas — students’ food, housing and financial security; mental and emotional wellness; safety and accessibility.
Undergraduate and graduate students interested in applying for CalFresh benefits should visit the Berkeley CalFresh clinic web page to learn when and where the clinics are being held on campus and to sign up. They also can apply online for a CalFresh debit card through nonprofit Code for America.
Many grocery stores accept the CalFresh card, including the Berkeley Student Food Collective at 2440 Bancroft Way #102. In addition to selling groceries, the collective, which is governed and operated by students, prepares close to 250 meals every week using imperfect produce. It sells them on a recommended $1-$5 sliding scale – students decide what they can pay. The CalFresh cards can be used for these refrigerated, to-go meals.