Free Food Finds at UCI

It’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, the night before a midterm from hell. As you stand in line for over-priced, watered-down iced coffee from Starbucks, you do a double take to make sure you have enough on you debit card for your all-nighter. Or at least enough so you can pay next month’s rent. We’ve all been in this dilemma at some point. If not, don’t fear, the day will come. Fortunately, there are many opportunities at UCI and the surrounding area to save a few bucks and save yourself from any guilt you feel after a meal. Discounted, if not free, food is easily accessible, if you know the tools of the trade.

Hang around the Student Center. The Student Center is the ideal place to grab free food, sometimes even an entire meal. On any given day, the Student Center hosts several different programs for both on and off-campus groups. Refreshments, often times courtesy of UCI Dining, accompany these events. If the event is large enough, you can easily slip into the crowd without anyone noticing. Other times if the events have leftovers, organizers will go through the Student Center and ask lingering students to come and take some food since it will be going to waste anyways. During finals week, Student Affairs and Event Services offer “Fuel for Finals,” which is usually enough to get you through the last few hours of studying.
Join rewards programs. For a good three-week period, I didn’t pay a dime at Veggie Grill. On my birthday I got a free entrée, for downloading the app I got a free entrée and for joining their e-club I got a free dessert. Loyalty programs have no cost to you, with the exception of some promotional emails, a small price to pay. The infamous Starbucks Rewards program is another worthy subscription. Even though the campus Starbucks does not honor gold card rewards, a trip to the Starbucks in the Albertson’s plaza will make all your all-nighters pay off. Literally.
Go to department events. As incentive for students to come explore different departments on campus, many offer free food during certain times during the week. While these are often the last places students want to spend their free time, the benefits outweigh the costs. Every Friday, the Social Science Academic Resource Center (SSARC) provides free bagels, while supplies last. With its relatively central location, a quick stop in the morning gives you a satisfying breakfast to power through your last day of classes. The SOAR Center is another great resource for free food. They often have weekly PB&J Study Jams and during finals they offer food through “SOARing through Finals.” Liking student organization pages on Facebook will help keep you abreast of these different events.
Become a Yelper. Not only is Yelp the ultimate food compass for hidden gems in the Irvine area, it also offers promotions for many businesses. All you need to do is “check-in” through the app and the discounts come flooding in. Checking in at Peets will get you $1 off a Mayan Mocha or Cocoa. At Cielo Coffee, off of University and Michelson, a check-in will get you 10 percent off your entire order. While not entirely free, a discount is always preferred over full-price. And it gives Starbucks a run for its money, something I will always advocate.
Give Blood. We’ve all come to hear, and often times tune out, the pitch to give blood at the UCI Blood Donor Center. But donating blood actually has more perks than one would expect. Giving blood is not only a great system cleanser, but it also a great way to help out those in need within the community. After you give blood, the Center often provides a variety of refreshments to help you recover. You also get a choice of “gifts,” like a Jamba Juice coupon for donating, which is a relatively quick, painless process.
Hang out with parents. While this option may not be the most practical, or enticing, parents are often the best resources for free food. Going home, or even having your parents come visit you at school, is a great opportunity to catch up over a meal out. Many parents love treating out their kids because they understand what it’s like to consistently check, and cry at your account balance. If you can, take advantage of your parent’s wisdom and generosity.

Free food at UCI and the surrounding area is much easier than one would imagine. All it takes is some strategy and a bit of luck. Happy eating!