Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA has made the difficult decision to extend remote learning and work through the beginning of 2021 to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of our students, staff, and faculty.
Prior to the pandemic, UCLA had taken significant steps to address student hunger and homelessness. Recent studies have indicated over 35% of UCLA undergraduates and nearly 23% of UCLA graduate students struggled with food insecurity, while 4% overall experienced homelessness. Although our campus has created a robust structure of strategic basic needs interventions that students could regularly depend on, the pandemic and campus shutdown have further widened the equity gap we have been fighting to close.
Over the past six months, our students have observed dramatic spikes in unemployment and/or significant wage loss, causing many to face new or additional challenges paying for rent, food, and tuition. Consequently, many students are now living with friends or families, where they may experience pressure to financially contribute or internalize guilt from adding to their family's expenses.
Overall, these compounding financial hardships compel students to prioritize additional costs that compete with purchasing food - leading to potential challenges to their health, nutrition, and ultimately, academic progress.
Nevertheless, these challenges are not exclusive to UCLA students. Members of our broader Bruin community such as UCLA staff, faculty, and retirees have experienced similar obstacles during the pandemic. Bruins near and far have been asked to work and learn differently, while simultaneously balancing their personal commitments and sustaining connections to our UCLA family.
As in any time of crisis, the UCLA community responds with optimism and generosity—asking what they can do to help.
For a half century, the UCLA Community Programs Office (CPO) has cultivated a network of student leaders to address social inequities on and off campus through academic retention and K-14 outreach programs, community service and risk management efforts, leadership development for minoritized students, and basic needs interventions. During the 2008 economic recession, the CPO established one of the first campus food pantries in the nation, inspiring UC system-wide efforts to directly address student hunger and homelessness. As one of the leading advocates for food and housing justice at the UC, the CPO has developed complementary basic needs programming to provide short-term, intermediate, and long-term assistance directly to the most vulnerable and financially burdened Bruins.
These efforts have been able to flourish due to the sustained partnership with several campus and community entities, including the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative (HCI) Center at UCLA. Semel HCI is a campus-wide effort that draws upon UCLA's world renowned research and teaching, finds new and innovative ways to promote living "well" on campus, and shares that education and research with other communities, both locally and beyond. Since its inception, Semel HCI has promoted health-related work and leveraged the strengths of individuals and institutions on and off campus. Throughout this critical period, Semel HCI remained active to meet the needs of the UCLA community by tapping into its vast network of partners.
For seven years, the CPO has worked collaboratively with Semel HCI to advocate for basic needs services, to provide innovative programs such as the Teaching Kitchen, and to redistribute produce to the CPO Food Closet from the Brentwood Farmers Market and the jane b semel HCI community garden. Although the ongoing pandemic-related campus closure has affected the CPO's normal operations, the CPO has modified its efforts and has maintained its strong partnership with Semel HCI in order to meet increased challenges of food accessibility for the UCLA community. The CPO, along with its partners, continue to reassess, modify, and develop innovative programs that can address our campus community's evolving needs.
The CPO is partnering with Semel HCI to address food insecurity among the Bruin community through this Spark Campaign. The CPO is requesting funding to support basic needs programs, such as the virtual Online Food Closet's Food Gift Card Program and the Food Box Giveaway Program. All programs aim to increase food access to our food insecure communities (students, staff, faculty, and retirees). The continued provision of nutritious groceries through the CPO's basic needs programs, over an extended period of time, has the potential to reduce food insecurity and promote the long-term mental and physical health and well-being of our UCLA family.
During the pandemic, the CPO’s basic needs programs continue to serve UCLA’s most vulnerable students, staff, and retirees. A recent call for applications to participate in one of the CPO's summer food assistance programs received over 1,000 responses, with 71% of applicants being first-generation students and 72% of applicants having "very high" or "high" financial aid needs. Application responses indicated an increased need for additional food assistance for racially minoritized populations on campus (CPO Intake Survey 2020).
Following UCLA’s transition to remote instruction in March 2020, the CPO temporarily shifted its in-person services to operate remotely until it becomes safe to reopen services that follow social distancing guidelines. In the interim, the Food Closet distributed food gift cards with the support of several campus partners—such as Semel HCI—to meet the unique challenges food insecure students face during this time. With the fall term underway, the CPO and Semel HCI have developed reopening plans to provide modified in-person food distribution and nutrition programming efforts for students, staff, and retirees.
In order to support these collaborative and modified efforts, the CPO and Semel HCI are requesting funding to support programs to address food insecurity such as the virtual Food Closet and the Food Closet On the Go!, a mobile version of the Food Closet with outside food distribution and the expansion of the Food Box Giveaway Program for staff and retirees.
The overall goal of each program is to reduce food insecurity and to improve physical, emotional and social wellbeing. For instance, reducing food insecurity is associated with reducing risk and improving control of diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, which are proven COVID-19 comorbidities. Furthermore, food insecurity has been associated with poorer mental health and psychosocial stressors regardless of socio-economic status. Prior to the pandemic and campus closure, UCLA had a robust structure of basic needs interventions students could regularly depend on. However, the pandemic has caused barriers to both availability of services and service utilization. The provision of nutritious foods—distributed by the CPO programs in collaboration with Semel HCI—over an extended time period has the potential to reduce food insecurity and promote the long-term health and wellbeing of our UCLA students, staff, and retirees.
These are just two of many vital programs your gift can support. Every dollar helps a fellow Bruin in need (students, staff, faculty, and retirees), whether it be through the Online Food Closet Food Gift Card Program, Food Box Giveaways, or any of the other vital food resources that CPO works tirelessly to provide. Please consider making a gift today to support a fellow Bruin.
If this Spark campaign reaches 60 donors of any amount by November 23rd, Semel HCI will contribute $10,000 to this campaign. We hope it inspires you to help us reach our goal—even a donation as small as $1 helps unlock this financial support!
12/1 Update: Our donors have unlocked Semel HCI’s $10,000 challenge gift! We now have a new challenge gift from another generous donor: up to $15,000 in additional donations will be matched and we are deeply grateful for their kind gesture!
We are all facing unprecedented challenges right now, but we know that the strength and generosity of the global Bruin community will rise to the occasion of supporting students. Join the CPO and Semel HCI as we serve and support UCLA students, staff, faculty, and retirees now more than ever. Your gift will make a lasting impact on a fellow Bruin—here’s what some students had to say after benefiting from the Food Gift Card Program and CPO Food Closet:
“Thank you so much for selecting me for the Basic Needs Gift Card Program. I am extremely grateful; this will take a significant burden off my shoulders.”
“I would like to thank you for advocating and creating this opportunity for students like myself who are currently struggling during this time.”
“Without the assistance of programs such as these, I do not know what I would do, so I am so grateful for the support. Thank you so much for your consideration and the support that you offer for students at UCLA.”
"Thank you so much. Sometimes it can be hard to ask for help but you guys are so much appreciated for all you do. You make school possible for struggling students."
"I feel very blessed to be here at UCLA. All of the programs they offer to help students is amazing and even help with bare necessities. I'm touched. Thank you, UCLA."
"Thank you, CPO. Thanks to this food closet, I wasn't hungry every day this summer and I have something to look forward to during the school year when I'm hungry and have a headache! <3"
"Thank you so much. I don't really know where I'd be without this...keep putting the positive back into this world, we need it now more than ever."
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- Instagram: @ucla_cpo and @healthyucla
- Twitter: @uclacpo and @healthyucla
- Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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