UCSF Sustainability Stories

Linda Fu, Sustainability Fellow, July 2018

UCSF Addresses Food Insecurity with the Student Food Market

The University of California Office of the President’s 2015 Student Food Access and Security Study found that at least 42% of UC students are food insecure with a USDA rating of “low” to “very low” food security. In response, UCSF formed the Basic Needs and Food Security Initiative to resolve ongoing food insecurity in its community. As part of the initiative, UCSF’s Food Security Coordinators, Alece Alderson and Barbara Smith, are tackling both food insecurity and food waste with programs such as the Food 4 UCSF Students app and the Student Food Market. The Food 4 UCSF Students app was launched in June 2017 and is helping to eliminate food waste at the Mission Bay and Parnassus campuses by providing students with access to leftover food from catered events. Although the Food 4 UCSF Students app is effective, the app does not eliminate food insecurity in its entirety. The Student Food Market was created to assist in directly addressing this issue.

Market Serves Students in Need

The Student Food Market was first launched as a pilot program to run from January through June 2018, but its operations have been extended. The Market operates similarly to a food pantry. Students sign up by taking a brief survey regarding their need, but are not required to provide W2 forms or any financial statements. A selection of fresh vegetables and fruits, canned goods, snacks, and a basic staple good are all provided by the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank free of charge. The Market is located at the Student Success Center on the Parnassus campus and is open on Thursdays from 4pm to 6pm or while supplies last. If students have a schedule conflict they can also sign up to have groceries pre-packed and set aside for a Friday morning pick-up. Any food leftover after the pantry hours is then made available to UCSF students through a text alert on the Food 4 UCSF Students App. The Market currently services over 125 students each week and hopes to expand in the coming months.

Volunteers are Key to Market’s Success

The success of the Student Food Market is largely due to the UCSF community members who volunteer to help power the Market. Every Thursday at Parnassus, a group of volunteers gather outside the library for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank delivery. Anyone interested can sign up for any of the four shifts, and each shift is limited to four volunteers. Volunteers are expected to commit an hour to help with unloading food deliveries, setting up the market, or assisting students. Volunteering at the Market is unique because you get to work with fellow co-workers from different departments and meet aspiring healthcare providers and researchers. Because of the dedication and presence of volunteers, the Student Food Market has been approved by Vice Chancellor Watkins to remain operating with continued volunteer staffing. If you or your department is interested in volunteering at the Student Food Market, sign up here. The Market can always use a helping hand!

Students Receive Assistance with Meals

In addition to ensuring that healthy foods are available to students, the Student Success Center also provides recipes and cooking classes. One of the goals Barbara and Alece emphasize is leaving students with not only the basic ingredients, but also the skills and knowledge to prepare healthy meals. Recipes complement what is available at the Market that week and provide tips for preparing new dishes. This spring there was a delivery of apples and oranges, so one of the recipes introduced was a simple apple crisp. Instant Pot cooking classes are also available four times each academic year and are led by a Kitchen on Fire nutritionist and professional chef. To further assist students with meal preparation, every Thursday three Market visitors are randomly selected to win an additional item, which might be an assortment of spices, dishware, reusable containers, or kitchen utensils.

How to Participate


  • Sign up for the Student Food Market
  • Sign up for Food 4 UCSF Students app alerts

Faculty and Staff

  • Sign up to volunteer at the Student Food Market
  • Sign up to be a food provider for the Food 4 UCSF Students App

Learn More
For more information on the initiative and the resources available for students, visit the Basic Needs & Food Security for Students website or come by the Student Success Center (Parnassus Campus, room MU100).