In an era where college students face increasing financial challenges and food insecurity, the Student Basic Needs Coalition (SBNC) has spearheaded a groundbreaking initiative to address the significant gap in student enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The essence of their work lies in a student-led approach, using the power of peer connections to combat the stigma surrounding SNAP enrollment on college campuses. 

SNAP Into Action: The Power of Peers in Expanding SNAP Enrollment

SBNC has found that by enabling students to work on the local campus level to find the most effective ways to reach their peers, more students enroll in SNAP. This is because the traditional enrollment model relies on campus administrators reaching college students; however, they are often unable to combat the stigma that applying for benefits carries due to the administrator/student dynamic.

SBNC’s innovative program, SNAP Into Action, has a proven success record at 20 higher educational campuses—it is not just a localized effort, it’s a blueprint for scalability, which we are proud to fund via a Michelson Spark Grant. The project will strategically focus on California’s campuses, home to some of the nation’s largest college systems and a vast student population. The goal is to systematically identify the most effective outreach methods through data-drive analysis, laying the foundation for expansion across the country. 

How SBNC Will Help California’s Students Leverage SNAP to Lessen Food Insecurity 

According to the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, a staggering 69% of potentially eligible college students are not receiving SNAP benefits, largely due to stigma and a lack of awareness—only 1:5 students living with basic needs insecurity are receiving benefits through SNAP. More specifically, as recently as two years ago, over 143,000 low-income students relied on CalFresh for food assistance; however, California has between 416,000-700,000 eligible college students. To address this through the Spark Grant, SBNC will partner with five or more campuses across the three higher educational institutions in California through which they will work directly with students. SBNC understands that students have a fresh outlook on SNAP enrollment and can use their unique perspectives to develop innovative outreach tactics. 

By leveraging the power of peer-to-peer outreach and mRelief’s enrollment software to support students that may need additional help enrolling, graduate students will screen students for SNAP eligibility. They will also be available via text messages, phone calls, and emails, which provides a truly peer-based, personalized approach. Prior to the application phase, student leaders may table on campus, reach out to work study groups, and collaborate with the campus food pantry to ensure they are reaching students in need.

In addition to the boots on the ground, SBNC will also publish a report highlighting their efforts on more than 25 campuses, disseminating best practices, and sharing lessons learned. The report will then be distributed amongst the basic needs community in the hopes that the student-driven model can become a widely implemented norm. 

SBNC’s SNAP into Action initiative is not merely about enrolling students in SNAP—it is a transformative approach that empowers students to overcome barriers, break down stigmas, and create lasting change. As the program expands its footprint, the prospect of thousands more students gaining access to essential nutrition assistance becomes increasingly tangible. 

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation working toward equity for underserved and historically underrepresented communities by expanding access to educational and employment opportunities, increasing affordability of educational programs, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place for individuals to thrive. To do so, we work in the following verticals: Digital Equity, Intellectual Property, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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