Food Security on UCLA’s Campus

We often don’t think of food security as being an issue for college students. With dining halls and plenty of on campus restaurants, it would seem as if food is available to all students at all times. However, according to a 2016 study, 19% of students surveyed indicated having “very low” food security, while another 23% had “low” food security. Food security, according to the United Nations, exists when everyone has economic, physical, and social access to nutritious food. This means over 40% of the UC student population struggles to obtain nutritious food regularly.

From the same 2016 survey, only about 17% of the students received information on resources available, either on campus or in the community, to help combat food insecurity. Thus, this article strives to explain the variety of resources for UCLA undergraduate or graduate students, as well as staff and faculty, who may be experiencing food insecurity.

Some programs on UCLA’s campus are geared specifically towards students. For instance, the Economic Crisis Response meal voucher program sets aside a certain amount of meal vouchers, which can be used in the dining halls, every year for students in need. These meal vouchers can be picked up at the LGBT Center, Dashew, Bruin Resource Center (BRC), Community Programs Office (CPO), and the Transfer and Veteran student centers. Swipe Out Hunger at UCLA helps to enrich this program by collecting unused dining hall swipes at the end of each quarter and converting those swipes into meal vouchers.

The CPO Food Closet is another student-oriented resource on campus, which can be found in the Student Activities Center (SAC), room 111. Founded in 2009, the Food Closet aims to gather uneaten food from events, that would normally go to waste, or donations, and redistribute it to students who may be in need. The Food Closet is open Monday through Friday from 8am-6pm.

CalFresh, a California-government sponsored resource, is available not only for students, but for faculty and staff who are eligible as well. When enrolled in CalFresh, you could receive up to $194 a month for groceries which can be spent at places like Ralph’s, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s. While CalFresh is a state-wide resource, UCLA has its own CalFresh Initiative, located in SAC CPO 105E. This initiative, dedicated to enrolling eligible students in CalFresh, also has a Pre-Screening Tool to help you find out if you’re eligible for the program.

There are also many resources just outside of UCLA, like Café 580. Café 580 is located at 580 Hilgard Avenue, just across the street from campus and offers free food, internet, and study space for students. Café 580 also has various events advertised on their Facebook page to provide social connections along with food resources.

The Santa Monica Food Bank is a community resource, also available for UCLA students, staff and faculty. Located at 1710 22nd Street, their goal is to help provide food to low-income families in hopes of alleviating the stress of deciding between buying food or paying rent.

A nationwide resource available to UCLA students, both during their time at UCLA and beyond, is Dial 2-1-1. 2-1-1 provides resources ranging from housing, health and other crises needs. Specifically, it can give information on food pantries and other programs that can help address food insecurity in your community.

UCLA and its surrounding community offers a wide variety of food insecurity resources. While we may not be able to ensure food security for all students, we at least can make sure everyone is aware of the resources available, and hopefully takes advantage of them if they are in need.

To learn more about food security at UCLA, visit the food security page of our website.

Aurora Finley is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in English. Along with blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she is the Sexperts Executive Director for the 2017-18 academic year. She is also a regular volunteer for UCLA’s Habitat for Humanity chapter and blogs for the online UCLA Odyssey community.

CalFresh Initiative

The CalFresh Initiative at UCLA Aims to End Food Insecurity for College Students

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.

CalFresh 101

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.  


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:

Food Security Card- 228167358_2067403633477814_7065971982647096990_n


Contact the CalFresh Initiative at UCLA at

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.

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