Until there is no student hunger…

By Mary Chan


“The first time I walked into the Campus Food Bank I was feeling very beaten. My financial resources and personal energy were down to almost nothing. Very timidly I said, “Uh, hi, I am here to find out about a food hamper, I guess.” I waited for a disapproving look, the “oh you poor thing” attitude, but it didn’t come. I was met by a smiling face and a warm voice who said, “Sure thing, why don’t you come into the office and have a seat and we will see what you need.”


“The first time I walked into the Campus Food Bank, it was very hard. I was so embarrassed at having to ask for help, I remember little of my first visit aside from the fact that the person who helped me was very understanding, and I cried out of frustration and embarrassment. The second time I went in a few months later, I was still embarrassed, but I felt better about going because everyone was so friendly and helpful. At no time did anyone make me feel like I was a loser for not being able to feed my family — everyone was so understanding.”

Seven hundred ninety-five. This is how many people the Campus Food Bank fed last year, including 496 adults and 299 children. Seven hundred ninety-five people who benefited from the presence of a local food bank.

“The Food Bank is available for anyone involved with the campus,” says Campus Food Bank Assistant Coordinator Michele Burk. “It’s available to all undergrads and grads.” Staff, faculty and visiting scholars are also welcome to use the Food Bank.

Burk also challenges the stereotype that people using the Food Bank are poor managers of money.

“Students manage to get by with the basics, the month to month,” she says. “They’ve budgeted, they make enough from their part-time work. It’s the unforeseen stuff that gets you. All of a sudden, you have to move, [your] car breaks down, [you need] extensive dental work, you have to go to a funeral out of the province. Unexpected expenses are usually what throw people off.”

According to Campus Food Bank statistics, the most common reason for Food Bank usage last school year was unforeseen expenses. Other reasons include a low-paying job, high tuition, a lack of employment or an insufficient student loan.

The process of receiving a food hamper is simple.

“When a client first comes in, what we do is take down a little bit of information,” says Burk. “We fill out a request. We find out how many are in the household, what their ages are, so if there are children we give them different items than if they were adults, because kids need a little more milk.”

The Campus Food Bank also requests to see id for all members of the household.

“We have to ensure for our donors that it’s a legitimate need, so that we know there are that many people,” explains Burk.

Clients then choose items from a “shopping list” containing a list of food available from the Food Bank. Some items, such as rice, pasta, bread, fruit, juice, eggs, ground beef and soup, are guaranteed to be in stock. Families with children are also guaranteed diapers, baby food and dairy product certificates from a grocery store.

“Clients have the option of choosing what kinds of items they want to go into their hamper,” says Burk. “That way they’re not taking things they wouldn’t use, and some of our clients have allergies or special diet restrictions, so it accommodates them.”

Food Bank volunteers then assemble the hampers. Food hampers, which consist of about 80 items for an individual and 160 for a family with children, usually last from one to one-and-a-half weeks. Clients are allowed a maximum of eight hampers per year, six over the fall/winter semesters and two over spring/summer. A month must also elapse between visits. According to Burk, Food Bank use increases at the beginning and end of semesters.

The Campus Food Bank usually sees two main types of clients, the first of which is single full-time undergraduate students. These students generally use the Food Bank once or twice with less than a third accessing the service more than twice a year.

Most of these students are unable to pay for food due to insufficient student loans, low-paying or non-existent jobs, high tuition and unexpected expenses.

Students with dependents also use the Food Bank, with an equal number of single and dual-parent families using the service. Two-thirds of single parent families, however, will return to the Food Bank more than once, as opposed to half of the families with two parents.

The Campus Food Bank has a core staff of about 40 volunteers, as well as a paid coordinator position. Volunteer duties include greeting clients, taking information and hamper requests, filling hampers, cleaning shelves and restocking items. Burk adds that additional volunteers from clubs or the Students’ Union often help out around the time of major food drives.

There are three major food drives a year. The Shelf-help program, the first food drive of the year, runs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 8. Bags for food donations will be delivered to departments and faculties to be filled by staff and students. Major food drives also include the Holiday Food Drive at Christmas and one at Easter. In addition to these major events, minor fund-raisers also take place over the year. Money raised goes toward purchasing fresh produce, meat, dairy and other perishables, as well as other costs not covered by SU funding.

Non-perishable donations can be dropped off at Volunteer Services, Rm. 144 MacEwan Hall beside the hair salon, or in the grey bin outside the door. The Campus Food Bank can issue tax-deductible receipts for a cash donation or a grocery receipt attached to a food donation.

Common items the Food Bank always needs include pasta, the ubiquitous macaroni and cheese, dried soups and canned food, such as fruit, tomatoes and seafood, like tuna or salmon. The Food Bank also distributes toiletries, such as toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, soap and pads or tampons.

Some donations, however, defy description.

“We did have a donation of a food product that none of us here knew what it was because all the packaging was written in a different language,” says Burk. “We put it in the “extra” bin and said, ‘If there is anyone who can figure out what it is, they can take it.’”

In addition to providing food, the Campus Food Bank also works in a resource and advocacy capacity. By resource, Burk explains that the Food Bank tries to alleviate the problems behind the need for food.

“One of the questions we ask our clients is what has caused the present money and food shortage,” she says. “We don’t ask that to be intrusive. We ask that to try and identify some of the reasons people are using us, and to identify other resources on campus and in the greater community that might assist people in addressing the reasons why they have no money and therefore no food.”

If a client has difficulty finding employment, the Food Bank may direct them to Career Resources. Clients are also advised on how to appeal a student loan when a loan is insufficient, or where to get legal assistance.

The Campus Food Bank also works to increase community awareness about Food Bank use and student poverty.

“Our third goal [after food supply and resources] is to act as an advocate for our clients, making the public, the university community, aware of why it is that people use us, what reasons they give for being here,” says Burk. “We have postering campaigns, and we’d like to develop public speaking for any groups on campus that would be interested in knowing more about what the Campus Food Bank does.

“Basically,” she continues, “just making people aware that this is here, that it’s a service for students, by students, and working to break down the stigma of having to use a food bank, and hopefully working toward making the Campus Food Bank unnecessary.”

Until there is no student hunger, however, the Campus Food Bank will continue to provide its clients with the a basic human need. For one client, M, the Food Bank offered more than just a week’s worth of meals.

“I hope that I will never have to use the Campus Food Bank again,” she writes, ” but if I do, I know the helpful people there will send me home with bags full of food and, more importantly, hope.”

For more information, call 220-3092 or e-mail the Food Bank at foodbank@ucalgary.ca.

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