California State University, Chico’s Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) has received an unprecedented contract through the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to fund a three-year CalFresh Outreach (CFO) effort from Siskiyou to San Diego counties, involving over 40 California university and college campuses and five community organizations.

The CHC is now one of California’s five prime CFO contractors. For the CHC and other contractors, California will “match” total federal CFO funding of $14.7 million for FY 2019-2021 with an additional $19.1 million in staff time and other support.

“What’s unprecedented about this CDSS contract is the sheer number of colleges and universities involved, and the complexity of the collaboration,” said Jenny Fales, the CHC’s statewide CalFresh Outreach Program Director. “Though the reach is now much greater, this is essentially an expansion of the program we developed here at Chico State. We are sharing what we’ve learned here with other campus communities about reaching hungry students and helping them meet basic needs like having enough healthy food to get through each day.”

“The idea is to reach out to college and university students—those who suffer from food insecurity—which includes students who aren’t eating enough food, and those who are eating poor-quality food,” Fales added. “In many cases, it’s both. And if students qualify for CalFresh benefits, then we help them apply.”

Fales pointed out that CFO staff also connect students with all other available resources—local food pantries, community meal programs, and more—as part of their outreach work.

Supporting student success is the key point, according to Stephanie Bianco, CHC associate director and professor of nutrition and food science at CSU, Chico. The most recent report shows that nearly one in four students in the California State University system are going hungry. Further research suggests that 46 percent of Chico State students struggle to afford food and one in every 12 students live in unstable housing situations.

“This [contract] is just one part of California’s current commitment to fight hunger and homelessness among college students, but it’s an important part. Students who aren’t eating well are also students who won’t do well in school,” Bianco said. “And we need our students to succeed—to successfully complete college and become productive members of society, in all professions.”

Federal funding for this new statewide outreach comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), funds intended to help low-income families buy healthful food. In California SNAP is known as CalFresh.

Bianco pointed out that this new, expanded CFO program will benefit California in ways far beyond the nutritional support that individual students receive. This project will support food-related business in general—everything from farmers and farmers’ markets to mainstream groceries and mom-and-pop corner stores.

CalFresh funds used by students to buy food during the three-year contract period will be about $222 million, she said. But the overall economic impact of those federal funds in California will be more than $377 million, using a multiplier of $1.70 in economic activity for every CalFresh food dollar.