A woman wearing a face mask holding up a bag of produce.
Story Basic Needs Initiative

CSU CalFresh Outreach Supports Students' Basic Needs

Alisia Ruble

CSU campuses hosted CalFresh Outreach Week to raise awareness of expanded nutrition program for students.

A woman wearing a face mask holding up a bag of produce.

​A staff member at Chico State's Wildcat Food Pantry holds up some of the items available to students. Courtesy of Chico State/Jason Halley

​This February, California State University campuses hosted CSU CalFresh Outreach Week to raise awareness of the nutrition assistance program and help students navigate the process of applying for benefits. Spearheaded by the CSU Office of the Chancellor in collaboration with the Center for Healthy Communities at Chico State, the annual outreach event was reimagined to a week-long virtual event to highlight the expansion of CalFresh eligibility to more college students. The largest food program in the state, CalFresh is the California adaptation of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Supporting students' well-being and basic needs is a key priority of the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025. The CSU’s 23 campuses are working collectively to make a number of resources, programs, and services available to support students on their path to graduation, and CalFresh Outreach Week is one example. The Consolidated Appropriations Act temporarily extended CalFresh eligibility to college students eligible for work study and to those with an expected family contribution (EFC) of zero dollars. In coordination with key stakeholders including the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and counterparts at the California Community Colleges (CCC) and the University of California (UC), the CSU developed and executed an outreach plan that included contacting every student who may be eligible under the new criteria.

As part of CalFresh Outreach Week, CSU campus Basic Needs Initiative coordinators organized informative webinars and Q & A sessions about CalFresh benefits, virtual appointments to help screen students for eligibility and submit applications and activities on social media to dispel myths about benefits and reduce stigma surrounding seeking assistance. 

Fresno State’s Student Health and Counseling Center hosted a podcast episode called “Financial Aid for Food,” featuring a member of the campus’s Student Cupboard, as well as offering multiple CalFresh information sessions followed by screening appointments. 

Members of Cal State East Bay’s food pantry, Pioneers for H.O.P.E., hosted webinars like “Savvy Shopping with Your EBT” and “Shopping on a Budget” to teach students how to make the best use of their monthly grocery stipend, and Basic Needs staff at San Francisco State​ hosted “Cooking with CalFresh” to demonstrate how to make three meals using only ingredients students can purchase with the state benefits.

Coordinators at many campuses, like CSU Bakersfield, also hosted Basic Needs Ambassador Training webinars, which they hold regularly to train students on how to identify when one of their peers is struggling to meet their basic needs and direct them to campus resources. This is helpful because students may be more comfortable discussing personal problems with their peers. This training is also available to faculty and staff.

Recognizing the growing need to support students amid the financial strains many have faced under the pandemic, the CSU has expanded efforts to meet their basic needs since instruction pivoted to virtual formats in March 2020. Campus food pantries began offering curb-side pickup, launched a local delivery service for students with disabilities and even mailed grocery store gift cards to students unable to come to campus. And CSU students who have relocated away from their home campus due to the pandemic can access a food pantry at a sibling campus or get connected to local food resources

Campuses have reported seeing an increase in the number of students applying for CalFresh benefits over the past year, in part due to changes in their financial situation due to loss of work. Campus basic needs coordinators helped more than 4,600 students complete CalFresh applications in the past year, and at Stanislaus State, for example, assistance with applications increased by 263 percent from the prior year.

The desire and critical need for more support for students is evident, and legislators are stepping in to help. In February, Governor Gavin Newsom, Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced an immediate action agreement that includes $1.3 million in one-time funding for the CSU to expand CalFresh outreach, as well as full restoration of the $299 million reduction from the CSU's base 2020-21 budget.

While the CSU Chancellor’s Office is working on a plan to distribute the funds to the campuses, Basic Needs administrators applaud the Governor’s support:

“This critical funding will help remove barriers to student achievement and allow them to better focus on their studies and maintain progress to their degree,” said Dr. Lea Jarnagin, Interim Systemwide Director of Student Wellness & Basic Needs.
To learn more, visit the website for student well-being and basic needs​
Graduation Initiative