People wearing face masks assembling plastic bags of groceries.
Story Basic Needs Initiative

CSU Expands Outreach Efforts to Meet Students' Basic Needs

Alisia Ruble


People wearing face masks assembling plastic bags of groceries.

​​CSU Bakersfield Food Pantry empl​oyees prepare bags of groceries for students to pick up. ​

​​The California State University hosted a virtual panel discussion November 17 to highlight the critical work happening across the 23 campuses to meet students' basic needs as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

The panelists included Lea M. Jarnagin, Ed.D., Interim Director of Student Wellness & Basic Needs Initiatives; Rashida Crutchfield, Ed.D., associate professor of social work at Cal State Long Beach; Jennifer Maguire, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at Humboldt State; and Michael Taylor, a graduate student in the School of Social Work at Stanislaus State. Drs. Crutchfield and Maguire have led groundbreaking research​ on food and housing insecurity in higher education.

Recognizing the growing need to support students amid the financial strains many have faced under the pandemic, the CSU has found creative ways to meet students’ basic needs since instruction pivoted to virtual formats earlier this year. In spring, the university leveraged its partnership with the University of California (UC) and California Community Colleges (CCC) to create a comprehensive list of resources throughout the state, making it easy for students to find food, housing and mental health services quickly and easily.

While students on many campuses can still make appointments to visit their campus food pantry, some campuses, like Cal State LA and CSU Bakersfield, launched a free curbside food pickup service during which students can have a prepackaged bag of groceries safely delivered to their car. 

Some campuses, like CSU Dominguez Hills and Humboldt State, launched a local delivery service for students who are unable to come to campus to pick up groceries. Others, like Fresno State and CSU Monterey Bay, began mailing gift cards to students who lived far from their home campus.

Campuses also continue to help students apply for CalFresh, a nutrition assistance program funded by the USDA, with staff now holding meetings via Zoom and phone to walk students through the application process. 

As part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week from November 15-22, Basic Needs outreach staff organized activities to generate awareness for available basic needs services and reduce the stigma associated with receiving those services. 

At Stanislaus State, for example, staff filmed a cooking demonstration using food from the Food Box Distribution and Warrior Food Pantry. Many campuses, like Cal State Fullerton, held Basic Needs Ambassador training for students, faculty and staff to gain the knowledge and skills to be an advocate for at-risk students. And Cal Poly Pomona hosted a panel on “Understanding Student Hunger & Homelessness” to educate the campus community about efforts to address food and housing insecurity.

As a pillar of the Graduation Initiative 2025, the Basic Needs Initiative takes a holistic look at students’ well-being both inside and outside the classroom. The CSU is a national leader in studying the prevalence of food and housing insecurity as well as identifying and implementing solutions to support students’ basic needs. In February 2015, CSU Chancellor Timothy White commissioned a first-of-its-kind study to shed light on how campuses were meeting the needs of displaced and food insecure students and to offer recommendations to ensure success and graduation for these students.

Today, each of the 23 campuses has a dedicated representative to connect students with resources and perform outreach. Each campus has established a food pantry or food distribution system and offers CalFresh application assistance, and help connecting students with emergency housing and other resources.

"California is way ahead of the game on this issue, and it has everything to do with Chancellor Timothy White's commitment to this issue," says Crutchfield, who has continued her research while striving to ensure more students are aware of resources available to help them.

To learn more about how the CSU is meeting students’ needs, visit the Student Well-Being & Basic Needs Website
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