Food Security

Food insecurity, the uncertain or limited ability to get adequate food due to lack of financial resources, is a critical student issue that may negatively affect student health and academic outcomes. According to the 2016 UC GFI Student Food Access and Security Study, about 40% of surveyed UCLA students reported experiencing food insecurity in the last 12 months. Of those students experiencing food insecurity, about 23% reported low food security (reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet) and 16% reported very low food security (disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake). Food insecurity was higher among undergraduate students compared to graduate students and substantially higher among minority students. The prevalence of food insecurity among UCLA students is similar to UC students systemwide.

Here are some of the ways UCLA and HCI are working hard to reduce food insecurity on campus.

  • CalFresh Outreach: CalFresh (federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) is a government entitlement program that provides monthly food benefits to assist low-income households in purchasing the food they need to maintain adequate nutritional levels. This year CalFresh became a priority of the Food Security Working Group because it is an underutilized resource that can provide up to $194 for food purchases per month to students in need who qualify for the program. College students are eligible if they meet one of several criteria ( including if they are approved for state or federal work-study money. Three undergraduate interns were hired to work on outreach efforts, and a Master of Social Work student assisted the effort through her work with 580 Café. Several consultations occurred with students utilizing 580 Café. The interns met with campus stakeholders from the Bruin Resource Center to align outreach efforts, particularly from the Students with Dependents program. The interns also did outreach through “lecture storming” to announce the resource at the start of classes. The interns held a campuswide outreach day on May 31, 2017.
  • CPO Food ClosetThe CPO Food Closet was created in 2009 as a direct response to the economic downturn to provide a designated campus space to provide free food for students in need. The food closet changed leadership this year and is now managed by Chidera Izuchukwu and a team of CPO staff. The closet underwent a renovation in Fall 2016 to add refrigeration and additional storage capacity for perishable items and now regularly distributes fruit, vegetables, eggs, dairy, and other high nutrient foods. The food closet remains heavily utilized by students, as well as some staff, and is restocked several times per day. The food closet also started a grocery bundle program to help students who have an ongoing need for food assistance. The program accepted applications and enrolled 24 students in Fall 2016 and 28 students in Winter 2017. Students received a week’s worth of groceries throughout the quarter. The food closet also explored a satellite food pantry idea, but the project is currently on hold pending the participation of other campus partners. In 2017 – 18, the CPO student lounge will undergo renovations to increase its capacity for food preparation and storage space for students in close proximity to the CPO Food Closet.
  • CPO Grocery Shuttle: A pilot grocery shuttle van was launched in Spring 2017 to provide transportation for students to low cost grocery stores in the San Fernando Valley. The program is a response to students who prefer more affordable and culturally appropriate grocery options than what is offered in Westwood, but who lack reliable transportation. The shuttle also gives participants the option to receive a ride home within a certain radius of campus on the return trip. The shuttle currently runs in the evening on Monday through Thursday, and a morning trip on Friday. The program expanded its trips and enrollment after its launch and had 73 registered users for the eight weeks of the pilot. The program is aiming for full implementation in Fall 2017. More details on the evaluation of this pilot can be read in our End of Year Report.
  • ECRT Meal Voucher ProgramThe meal voucher program, managed by Serifa Dela Cruz and several other partners with the Economic Crisis Response Team (ECRT), distributes free meals to students in need each quarter, but has a demand that exceeds its budget most quarters. Most meal vouchers are donated by student swipes through the student group Swipe Out Hunger (SOH), a national student organization started by UCLA students in 2009 that aims to utilize leftover student meal plans to food and meals for students and community members in need ( Despite thousands of student meal swipe donations, additional meal vouchers typically must be purchased to meet the need. SOH received a large number of donations (~13,000) in Fall 2016, which supported the meal voucher program for the remainder of the academic year. As of June 2017, the program had distributed 5,774 meal vouchers to 629 students for an average of 9.2 vouchers per student, a higher utilization per student compared to last year. A big change to the program this year was that donated meal swipes are converted to meal vouchers as a 1:1 conversion, rather than the previous 2:1 conversion– essentially doubling the impact of donated swipes. In addition, nearly all of the vouchers are for Covel Commons and to-go options on the Hill rather than ASUCLA food outlets.
  • 580 Café580 Café (operated by Wesley Foundation Serving UCLA) has become a key community partner in the Working Group and is an important community and food resource for students at its location on the grounds of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, adjacent to the northeastern side of campus. Jeanne Roe Smith, the campus minister who operates the café, provides a friendly environment for students to come get snacks and meals, study, and talk. GFI funding helped 580 Café purchase: furniture, including tables, chairs, and blinds; kitchen equipment, including a microwave and coffeemaker; cleaning equipment and supplies, including a vacuum, broom, and mop; biodegradable paper goods; trash and recycling bins; and support for a new satellite food closet.
  • Farmers’ Market Gleaning and Distribution Program: The Farmers’ Market Gleaning and Distribution Program was launched in Fall 2015 by GFI Fellows Savannah Gardner and Tyler Watson and continues to serve students on a weekly basis. Working with the nonprofit partner Food Forward (, UCLA students (primarily from Swipe Out Hunger) volunteer at a farmers’ market gleaning in West Los Angeles each Sunday afternoon. A majority of the produce is delivered to University Village graduate student housing, and a smaller portion, consisting of grab-and-go fruit, is delivered to 580 Café and the CPO Food Closet. University Apartments South Resident Association (UASRA) coordinates the distribution at University Village and tracks attendance, while Food Forward tracks pounds of food delivered. This year, . Gardner received HCI support to continue coordinating this program and . Watson assisted with data collection and reporting. The program averages about 430 pounds of produce each week and to date has delivered over 26,000 pounds since starting in October 2015. On average about 34 graduate and professional students (or their spouses) pick up at University Village each week. The Public Health Nutrition Club (PHNC) now hosts quarterly food demonstrations for graduate students waiting in line at University Village to show simple, healthy snacks and meals using fresh, seasonal produce.
  • Food Recovery: Campus food recovery efforts continued through 2016 – 17 with a focus on moving towards formalizing food recovery options. USAC Facilities Commission was regularly picking up unsold baked goods from ASUCLA cafes, and this effort has now been transferred to the Food Security Coordinators. The Fielding School of Public Health (FSPH) is piloting a schoolwide recovery program that includes a new refrigerator, an administrative point person to deliver food after campus events and track deliveries, a student group to maintain the refrigerator, and an email notification system. Additionally, UCLA Dining is currently exploring options for residential restaurant food recovery. Different options for campus catering are also being explored, including adding information about food donations and including to-go containers in catering contracts.
  • Mobile Teaching Kitchen: The Food Security Working Group coordinated with the newly implemented HCI Teaching Kitchen Collaborative to plan for a mobile teaching kitchen that could be utilized at different campus locations. Several meetings occurred in addition to the regular working group to solicit input for a custom-built cart. CPO also explored the idea of a teaching kitchen van or food truck concept that would have a range beyond the campus.
  • Food for Finals: USAC Facilities Commission distributes healthy snacks to students during the 10th week (finals week) of each quarter to help nourish studying students at libraries on campus. Several hundred students receive snacks each quarter and the program has expanded this year with additional support. A separate but related effort is the Bruin Resource Center’s De-Stress Study Fest, which distributes fruit and granola bars to hundreds of students during finals.
  • Holiday Food Boxes: In Fall 2016, CPO formally implemented a holiday food box distribution to help students who have a need during the Thanksgiving and Winter Breaks. Each box contained food items for a full holiday meal, plus additional food items for the duration of the holiday break. Boxes were distributed for Thanksgiving (300 boxes) and for Winter Break (350 boxes).
  • Student Grocery Cooperative: The Student Food Collective (SFC) aims to provide fresh, delicious, sustainable food for the UCLA community, celebrate the artistic and cultural vibrancy of our campus, and bring people together ( This year, one student intern was hired through GFI funding and another was supported by HCI to work with SFC towards the goal of starting a student- owned, co-operatively run market and café. The market/café will operate with the goals of educating students about food systems, training students to manage a sustainable business, and provide a warm, welcoming space where people can come to learn and be part of a community. Last year, the student interns were successful in securing a 5th floor space in Kerckhoff Hall. This year, the interns and SFC worked with campus Environmental Health & Safety to identify needed renovations to make the space food safe, and renovations for the floor were scheduled. SFC has expanded its membership and continues biweekly organic bulk produce orders for students, and also tables with the UCLA Farmers’ Market.