Orientation week at UC Berkeley includes information on campus food pantry

Berkeley, Calif. (KTVU) - The cost of college with tuition, books, and rent in the  Bay Area can add up quickly and leave some students with little money left over for food.

"I think normally I spend about $35 weekly," said Alyssa Saldana, a U.C. Berkeley student who also holds down a job and plans to graduate this fall with the goal of entering law school. 

For her, Cal's on-campus food pantry in the student union has been a lifeline. It allows students to get free, healthy food twice a month when students need a little help. 

"Especially at the start of the year, I think it's really important, because you're inundated with course readers, stuff for your apartment too that you might need or your housing," said Saldana.

The food pantry is part of U.C. Berkeley's effort to help students who might otherwise skip meals or go hungry because they don't have the funds to buy food. 

The pantry is open weekdays until 4pm. The campus Basic Needs Committee also is holding clinics to help students apply for CalFresh, the state's food stamp program.

"This is the first week of classes. We want to set the tone from the very beginning to college student that in order to be a successful college student, you have to take care of your basic needs," said Ruben Canedo, the U.C. Berkeley Basic Needs Committee Chair.

Canedo says a Cal study found more than 10,000 students might be eligible for CalFresh.

"The study we published in December 2017...identified that 39 percent of undergraduates and 23 percent of graduate students are experiencing food insecurity," said Canedo.

He says it isn't just students from low-income families.

"Working class students are struggling. Middle class students are struggling, some of them as individuals in college because of the high cost of living in the Bay Area," said Canedo.

The Alameda County Food Bank and Alameda County Social Services partnered with Cal to hold the CalFresh clinic in the Unit #1 dormitory on Durant Street. 

"I think it's really helpful, because a lot of people can be food insecure," said Pedro Valdez, an incoming U.C. Berkeley student from Dinuba who came to apply.

It was like two seconds. You just write your name down and check off some boxes," said Paige Lary, another incoming  U.C. Berkeley student from Bishop, California.

Vikrem Padda is a full-time Cal senior, who works two jobs and is the campus coordinator for CalFresh. He helped organize the clinics and says he and his friends have had to struggle at times. 

"They'll be like, oh, I'll just drink coffee throughout the day and then that will keep my appetite down and then I'll have something small for dinner," Padda said.

The average Cal student receives an extra $192 per month, according to Padda, which can be the difference between eating three meals a day or going hungry.

"Not having to stress about food is something that really just takes a big burden off my mind, like, am I going to have to pick up extra shifts just to get enough money to buy food for the next week? Or am I going to have to cut down my food intake just to make rent this month?" said Padda. 

Canedo says the CalFresh education efforts are helping a growing number of students who need help. 

"Two years ago we submitted 216 applications. Last year, we submitted 1,366," said Canedo, who adds that they hope to help as many as 3,000 students apply for the CalFresh program this year. 

Another clinic is scheduled for Tuesday from 10a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Unit #1 dorm on Durant Street. 

Students anywhere in the state can apply for CalFresh through their county social service agency.

LINK: http://www.cdss.ca.gov/food-nutrition/calfresh