How we created a campaign to help college students eat healthier.

Communication design, Code for America

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.

The Opportunity

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.


Intercepts with students at University of California, Berkeley

We started by going out and asking students what they thought about food stamps:

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:

We already had built, a tool that specifically tackled the last two issues. We thought we could do more to help with the first issue.

Design Explorations

We set out to explore a few design directions with the following ideas in mind:

We explored a few ‘meme-able’ directions that played off the idea of a starving student.

The final direction was one that we thought set an appropriate optimistic tone with just the right level of cheekiness.

Student CalFresh posters

Student CalFresh postcards

Student landing page for

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 impact

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.

Our client success specialist repping our posters at the UC Berkeley food pantry.