CSUDH employee places roll of toilet paper in care packages.
Story Basic Needs Initiative

A Community United

Alex Beall

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, CSU campuses remain open and ready to serve students.

CSUDH employee places roll of toilet paper in care packages.

​Staff prepare care packages at California State University, Dominguez Hills.


​​​Dedication to student achievement and well-being is what the CSU is all about, and it’s the faculty, staff and essential workers who make this possible. In this spirit, they have gone above and beyond as they continue coming to campus to care for students in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

​​As CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White says: “I applaud your ingenuity, resilience and dedication to our mission—it is something I will never forget.”

These campuses are just three examples of how the CSU is continuing to meet students’ needs by providing basic needs and support services.

Securing Student Housing

With shelter-in-place orders in effect, CSU campuses have made a push to ensure their students have access to housing, especially as many have moved out of the dorms.

At California State University, Chico, the Basic Needs Project is taking steps to that end, including distributing emergency grants for housing, food and other needs and rapidly rehousing students.

“California had a huge [housing] affordability challenge before, and if anything, that becomes more challenging because of the economic instability of the students' families and the fact so many student jobs on campus went away,” says Joe Picard, Chico State Basic Needs administrator.

The office has seen a significant increase in applications for assistance as a result of the pandemic and is working with outside partners to house students who have applied for help.

Chico State aims to house 135 students who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless each year. In the past, it has successfully housed eight students through its work with partner Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT), which serves as a nonprofit property manager that leases out homes to groups of students. Currently, Chico State is working on a contract to place 16 more students in three new CHAT homes.

In addition, the campus is finalizing a contract with True North Housing Alliance, which runs a local shelter and specializes in rapid rehousing, to connect even more students with housing options.

For Chico State, the Camp Fire of November 2018—when University Housing placed 17 students in 48 hours—prepared the campus to respond quickly and care for students in emergency situations like this.

“The experience of the Camp Fire is so real for us and so applicable here to our disaster preparedness,” Picard says. “We're just taking it day by day and finding where the opportunities are, and then trying to leverage those for the students’ benefit.”

Food Pantries Switching Gears

A trip to the grocery store may not be an option for many students right now, driving campuses’ food pantries to figure out new ways to distribute needed sustenance.

In this way, the Basic Needs Office at California State University, Dominguez Hills has made adjustments to their food distribution process to ensure students can continue to receive groceries through the food pantry.

“Hearing from students who are really struggling right now is a real eye-opener for those who work in any face-to-face departments,” says Morgan Kirk, CSUDH’s Basic Needs Office coordinator. “This will really show that we as a campus community need to partner together and figure things out for our students on campus.”

Using what was available in the pantry, Kirk assembled 108 care packages of food with the help of other CSUDH staff. At first, the bags were stored in the Student Union’s meditation room, where students could pick them up after calling ahead.

But when the Student Union closed as part of the effort to contain the virus, the office set up a drive-through pop-up pantry in a campus parking lot. On that day, students could drive to the lot and stay in their cars while staff placed the care packages in the back seat or trunk.

The bags left over from this pop-up were taken to the food pantry in University Housing, where some students are still living.

While the pantry is awaiting a food order to replenish its stock, Kirk is continuing to brainstorm ways to get food to the students who need it. She says the drive-through pick-up opportunities will continue, but she’s also hoping to acquire meals from local restaurants that can be delivered to students.

“We truly don’t know how long this is going to go on, so we’re just trying to plan [our food distribution] out for as long as we can and continue these resources and services until we’re able to get back online,” Kirk says.

Providing Counseling & Academic Support

Students, staff and faculty have transitioned to online learning and working, but that hasn’t stopped CSU campuses from making support services normally available on campus now available virtually.

California State University, Sacramento introduced online mental health counseling services for the first time to ensure students can still get the help they need.

Using an online platform called Telehealth, the office is providing virtual intake appointments, ongoing counseling appointments and group counseling sessions.

However, one staff member does remain onsite to provide in-person mental health urgent care services that cannot be adequately addressed online.

“We feel it is critical to keep mental health services available, including appropriate urgent care services, now and going forward,” says Ron Lutz, director of Counseling Services. “While the initial focus during the COVID-19 pandemic has been on physical health concerns, as the pandemic wears on, the need for mental health services will increase. The social isolation and economic disruption brought about by the crisis will most certainly impact the well-being of our students well into the future.”

The campus is also making sure students have the same level of access to academic support as classes have gone online by taking academic advising, tutoring, supplemental instruction, peer mentoring and the career center online as well.

By making an appointment, students can meet with their academic advisor, a mentor or a tutor via video call and access virtual résumé and interview help through the career center.

The tutoring office has been averaging about 35 appointments each day even with the transition to online and has also begun posting recordings of their academic workshops on YouTube for students to watch later.

See other ways the CSU has banded together​ to provide students an education in a time of crisis.​