Food Bank Innovations | Addressing College Hunger

June 10, 2019

For young people, college can be a stressful whirlwind of unknowns: wondering which classes to take and activities to join, or how to balance earning a little money while making enough time to study. How to afford your next meal shouldn’t be an unanswered question.

But for thousands of students right here in San Francisco and Marin, food insecurity is a daily challenge.

The Food Bank first connected with advocates at San Francisco State University in 2016, when professors and campus health services began seeing more students suffering from lightheadedness, headaches, and weakness from not having enough food. Soon after, our first college pantries launched to ensure that students always have enough food to stay healthy and focus on learning. After all, it’s nearly impossible to take on life’s challenges with an empty stomach.


Elina, a political science major at Dominican University in San Rafael, commutes 40 miles to campus every day from her home in Santa Rosa — a drive that can take two hours each way. She started coming to the pantry in the fall of 2018.  “A lot of my downtime isn’t actually downtime — it’s driving time between school and home, so that doesn’t leave a lot of extra time to find food,” Elina says. “I have a friend here who had to live in her car because she couldn’t afford housing. The pantry has been a big deal to students like me.”

Many students like Elina either don’t have time to cook or don’t have access to full kitchens. That’s why our college pantry menu is designed for students on the go: fresh produce, canned protein, granola bars, bread for sandwiches, and bottled juice or sparkling water. It’s been a huge hit.  “Sometimes I pick up really great veggies – like carrots – which allows me to skip that trip to the grocery store, which saves me time and money.   But today I totally forgot to pack a lunch, so I came by and was able to pick up some healthy protein bars that will last me a week!”


We now serve nearly 1,000 hungry students every week at five college pantries through partnerships with student organizations at San Francisco State University, College of Marin, UCSF Parnassus, Dominican University, and City College of San Francisco.  Coming soon we will be establishing pantries at University of San Francisco and the San Francisco Art Institute.  And it’s not just healthy food that we deliver ever week.  Students get tips and recipes for preparing healthy meals, and also have access to CalFresh (food stamps) enrollment assistance at these institutions