Renamed, rebranded and relocated, the UCI Basic Needs Center celebrated its most recent evolution at a festive ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, April 11.
Formerly known as the FRESH Hub, the center is now housed in the former Cafe Med site at the base of the health sciences walking bridge, which connects the Science Library to the School of Medicine complex. (The official address is 800 W. Peltason Drive.) The facility continues to offer the same – or improved – services that have supported UCI students since it appeared as a food access and security initiative in 2015.
“I’m so excited,” says Andrea Mora, the center director since she graduated from UCI in 2015. “The trailer [where the FRESH Hub was before] in Lot 5 was always meant to be temporary. It’s so nice to have a permanent, dedicated space to serve students now.”
The center’s former location in the Mesa Court parking lot will become the site of housing units set to open in 2026.
“Students want to live on campus now more than ever, and housing is one of our basic needs too,” Mora says. “There’s a lot more to the center than the pantry, though that is what we’re best known for.”
The facility addresses many issues besides food insecurity. One is emergency housing for students. It also offers transportation services, a diaper bank for student parents and, most recently, professional clothing support.
The bulk of the center’s services, however, ensure that students have high-quality food to eat. The pantry offers various proteins, produce, dairy items, nonperishable staples, toiletries and more – provided by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, the OC Food Bank, wholesalers, local grocery stores and an on-campus organic garden.
“We really try to make it look like a grocery store,” says Noelle Doan, a third-year sociology major who works on the operations team at the Basic Needs Center. “The goal is to destigmatize the experience of shopping at a food pantry so students feel comfortable using our resources.”
Doan is one of many student employees who staff the facility. According to Mora, there are more of them than professional staff, since peer-to-peer support is easier to accept.
“It’s important to help students meet their basic needs, but we want them to feel empowered to go beyond that too. Our student staff is an important part of giving students that support they need,” she says.
Mora’s passion for fostering and creating resources for underserved students stems from her own experience as a first-generation, then-undocumented undergraduate.
“A lot of my friends who are alums are really impressed with the work we’re doing, and they always ask, ‘Where was this when we were students?’” Mora says. “I know it would have given me a lot of relief, so hopefully, the students we serve today are feeling that relief now.”