CalFresh visits, offers benefits to students

By Marissa Moreno

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Riverside City College received a grant from CalFresh to provide food assistance to students.

The first-time food grant was established through the chancellor’s office by Cecilia Alvarado, Dean of Student Services.

The grant was first discussed during the fall semester of 2017, but it became effective Feb. 12, 2018, the beginning of the spring semester at RCC. The grant is due to expire June 2019.

“In the meantime, while (students) get connected to CalFresh, RCC fills the gap,”Alvarado said.

The CalFresh program, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a part of the Department of Social Services provided in the state of California. It is a service that helps low-income people who meet federal income eligibility have access to healthy and nutritious food, according to the California Department of Social Services website.

The CalFresh application can take up to 30 days to process and after being processed people may start receiving benefits within three calendar days if they meet the Expedited Service criteria. In addition to the application, students will need to have an interview with the County Welfare Department of their city to discuss the application.

“The main premise is to get students registered to CalFresh,” Megan Bottoms, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Student Activities at RCC, said.

Through the partnership set up between the college and CalFresh, students can meet with CalFresh representatives on campus to fill out their applications.

According to Alvarado, once students are accepted by CalFresh, the RCC food grant will no longer have to cover them since CalFresh will be providing the on-going food support for them.

Students can apply for the food grant by visiting the Student Services Center where they can pick up an application.

After filling out the initial application, students are required to attend an intake interview held in the Student Services Center to gauge the needs of the student.

“The interview is meant to weave out the students that need help with budgeting themselves better and those that have a true food insecurity, as in they really don’t know when their next meal will be,” Bottoms said.

The intake interview will also determine the resources that are available to students seeking food assistance, such as how often students are on campus, source of income, family or household size and whether students have access to a full or limited kitchen or if they have access to one at all.

Through the food grant, students can receive a combination of pantry bags and meal vouchers that can be redeemed at the RCC cafeteria. They can also receive food gift cards that can be redeemed at stores like Walmart.

The food gift cards can supplement the pantry bags depending on a student’s access to kitchen appliances. Gift cards would allow students to purchase fresh vegetables and fruits, while pantry bags would provide them with non-perishables like rice and spaghetti, Alvarado explained.

Isaac Beebee, an RCC student, said he signed up to CalFresh mostly to have better access to healthier foods.

“Not many stores have healthy, fresh foods. There is a Sprouts in Moreno Valley and that’s the closest for me,” Beebee said.

While some students are signing up for the promise of bringing healthier foods to their table, others are signing up for access to food in general.

“You take what you can get,” RCC student Jack Healy said. “Can’t even worry about school when you’re worrying about yourself.”

Alvarado said that the RCC pantry will be able to provide for students as long as the campus is open throughout the grant’s duration.

Bottoms added that even if the grant is not renewed, students can still access the Resource Center if they need food assistance because that is funded by the student government budget and will continue independently from the food grant.