In 2017, the GetCalFresh team partnered with the public health community to launch a statewide campaign across college campuses that transformed the perception of food assistance for students. While one would be hard pressed to find a student who had heard of CalFresh in 2016, it is now a very normal part of the college experience in 2018. Today, students are over 25% of our applicant base and we’ve helped over 130,000 students across California apply for CalFresh.
Recent reports have stated that as many as 40% of college students in the US suffer from food insecurity. In early 2017, a policy change expanded the eligibility for food stamps to a wider range of college students. We wanted to make sure that as many students as possible could take advantage of this.
We started by going out and asking students what they thought about food stamps:
- “None of my friends are on it. Are you sure its for me?”
- “I wouldn’t want to take money away from someone who needs it more.”
- “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
However, when we asked if they would be interested in a financial aid program that helped them with groceries, they unequivocally said,
“I definitely could use extra help with food? How do I sign up?”
We also participated training seminars lead by an outreach team at CSU Chico and they said their three biggest goals were:
- Increase awareness and reduce misperceptions
- Screen to see if they were likely eligible
- Help them navigate the complex application process
We already had built GetCalFresh.org, a tool that specifically tackled the last two issues. We thought we could do more to help with the first issue.
We set out to explore a few design directions with the following ideas in mind:
- We wanted students to know that CalFresh was specifically for them.
- We wanted to be clear it new opportunity to take advantage of, not something to be ashamed of.
- We wanted to reposition it as financial aid, something students would be familiar with.
- We wanted students to know who was likely eligible.
The final direction was one that we thought set an appropriate optimistic tone with just the right level of cheekiness.
Getting it out there
The crucial last step was getting the campaign in front of students. We knew that while our strength was design and technology, we needed help with getting a presence on school campuses. Our partnerships team reached out to like minded non-profit organizations including Swipe Out Hunger, the UC Basic Needs Alliance, school nutrition offices, and food banks to help us out.
We pitched them on our campaign and many of them were excited that someone decided to take this on. In order to reduce as much friction as possible, we printed out tens of thousands of copies of posters and flyer and sent them to local chapters of organizations across dozens of California schools. Our partners made sure that our campaign would be visible at student orientation events, financial aid food panties, cafeterias, and dormitory lobbies.
The change in perception is, honestly, staggering. Talking to college students today, people are either on CalFresh themselves or know many people who are. It is as normal as receiving scholarships or financial aid. Today, students are over 25% of our applicant base and we’ve helped over 130,000 students across California apply for CalFresh.
The most exciting part of this campaign was that it was a community-wide effort of researchers who identified the public health issues, advocates who pushed policy makers, policy makers who changed the rules, and on-the-ground organizations who spread the word.
We are proud to have played a part in making sure their work was the most impactful it could be.