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How Cal Parent Ambassadors Help Address Student Food Insecurity

By Kirsten Mickelwait

When parents send their children off to UC Berkeley, they’re naturally anxious about their students’ welfare away from home in a new environment. Many, however, have an additional worry: Will their child get enough to eat? The concern has merit: Nearly 40 percent of Berkeley’s undergraduates and more than 20 percent of its grad students experience food insecurity – being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food –  during their time at Cal.

Fortunately, the university has resources in place to address this problem. UC Berkeley has the longest-standing institutional Basic Needs Committee in the U.S., systematically addressing food, housing, and financial insecurities before they become major issues. One of the ways the Basic Needs Committee serves its students is by housing a food pantry on campus. The UC Berkeley Food Pantry accommodates 970 unique student visits each month, and during the last two weeks of each semester, Cal Parent Ambassadors have pitched in when regular student volunteers are preoccupied with their final exams.

“Over the past two years I’ve seen the pantry grow, not only in the number of healthy foods offered, but also in the number of needy students using this invaluable resource,” says Cal Parent Ambassador Carolyn Palmer ’83, P’16, P’19. “When I see their smiles, it gives me the greatest pleasure knowing that I’ve helped to make their day a bit better.” As a former nutrition major herself, Palmer feels particular gratification to be giving back in this way.

Since December 2016, 35 Cal Parents Ambassadors have volunteered for a total of 250 hours at the Food Pantry, located in the basement of the MLK/ASUC Student Union. They’ve advised and served pantry visitors; referred students to the Cal Fresh (food stamp) program; provided tips on how to cook and prepare food items; stocked and organized shelves; swept floors and broke down boxes; and lifted spirits by providing words of encouragement to students before finals. Since February 2017, Palmer and four other local parents have also been picking up fresh produce harvested at the nearby UC Gill Tract Community Farm and delivering it to the Food Pantry.

“It’s so important that our basic needs efforts are multigenerational,” says Ruben E. Canedo, chair of the Basic Needs Committee. “The need for support and the ability to provide that support has no age. A community thrives when all needs are being met and all are contributing to fulfilling those needs.”

Click here to learn more about Berkeley’s Basic Needs Security effort and to contribute funds to support students in need, or visit the Cal Parents Ambassadors website to learn more about how parents can make a difference at Berkeley!

Basic Needs Snapshot

  • 39% of undergraduate students experience food insecurity at UC Berkeley.
  • 23% of graduate students experience food insecurity at UC Berkeley.
  • 10% of all students experience homelessness at some point in the academic year.
  • Food pantry student visits for May 2018: 1,040 visits (970 unique students)

Sources: UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, UC Graduate Wellbeing Survey, and Chancellor’s Housing Task Force

How you can join us

Contact Rose Hsu, Assistant Director of Parent Philanthropy & Engagement, at or 510.664.7411.

Cal Dining meal plans are designed for your student’s health. Meal swipes for use in the dining commons and flex dollars for use in campus restaurants and convenience stores offer flexibility while providing for students’ basic needs. Read more about the Bear Meal Plan and Cub Meal Plan for students who live off campus.

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