Securing Your Basic Needs

Written by: Kaly Suarez
Fall 2016

This past semester I was fortunate enough to work with the Basic Needs Team at Cal that strives to bring awareness to the issues of food insecurity, housing insecurity, and financial aid across all UC campuses. My specific work was dedicated to food and housing insecurity and was split up with across two organizations: The Food Pantry and the Curriculum & Programming Team. Throughout the semester my knowledge of these topics expanded and I had the opportunity to practice spreading awareness and volunteering for the cause.

The Food Pantry

My volunteer work at the food pantry has been very rewarding this semester. Not only is it a student run organization, which is a pride on its own, but it also contributes to a greater cause devoted to helping other students at Cal achieve their basic needs in terms of food. Throughout my shifts, I became very observant and interested to learn what items students were selecting from the pantry and why. Since the rules of the food pantry only allow students to take 5 items at a time, I was curious which items were to be favored among the students in a pantry full of over 30 items. As my shifts went on throughout the semester I began to get a sense of what was popular: rice, milk, pasta/pasta beans, and cereal as those items would be the first ones selected. But then, there were new additions added to the Food Pantry: frozen items. These items included frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen breakfasts and dinners, and frozen meats. These new items were an immediate hit and students started favoring these items instead of the original staple foods. Observing this got me thinking about the set mission of the food pantry, which is sustainability and nutrition, and how the students themselves may be overlooking this. Foods like rice and canned beans not only allow the intake of nutrients but they are also considered a staple food meaning they will last a long time and will provide enough food for multiple meals. On the other hand foods like pre-packaged frozen dinners will only satisfy one meal craving and may include high levels of fat, salt, and sugars. However, I realized that students know what they favor and selected items that would satisfy their cravings, no matter the situation. I enjoyed being able to volunteer and personally see the issue of food insecurity addressed on campus.

Curriculum and Programming Team

This semester I also had the opportunity to work with the education team to raise awareness on food and housing insecurity. I worked directly with my supervisor at the Tang Center to try to develop marketing materials that would help students become aware of these issues that are prevalent amongst students. My supervisor and I decided an efficient way to go about this would be to market to incoming freshman and junior transfers and include the information with their orientation materials. I created a dashboard comprised of valuable need-to-know information as well as multiple self-assessments students could take to assess their situation and make a plan if needed. Being a student myself gave me an advantage when developing these tools because I was already familiar with resources available and have access to things non-students, such as faculty, would be excluded from. I think it was valuable to have someone on the team that could relate on a deeper level with student about these issues because it offers new perspective that might not have been thought of by the counselors/curriculum team. I’m excited to see the future of my projects and how they will be designed and implemented. From this experience, I got to view the issue from an academic standpoint and it is really comforting to know that there are many academic groups on campus that are focused on these issues and want to help students find relief.

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