Belleville said the U of C food bank is only accepting monetary donations at this time.
Andrew Brennan/the Gauntlet

Schools now share food bank services

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An initiative led by the University of Calgary Campus Food Bank allows all post-secondary students in Calgary to access food bank services from Mount Royal University, Alberta College of Art and Design and the U of C.

"ACAD gives us donations of money and MRU gives us access to three of their programs, Food Pantry, Interfaith Food Bank and the Good Food Box program," said Students' Union vice-president student life Jennifer Abbott. "It gives students more access."

Student organizations from each school have started an advertising campaign to let MRU, U of C and ACAD students know about what new services are available to them.

"The advertising strategy is going good," said U of C food bank coordinator Rob Aronson. "We will need to assess it continuously to see if we will need to up the ante, but so far I am quite happy with it."

"It is mostly for convenience and location," said MRU peer support centre coordinator Stephanie Kusnick. "The centres are very different. Our centre is a lot smaller than the U of C's."

The U of C food bank gives out food hampers with enough food for seven days, including perishable items. Mount Royal's Food Pantry only provides non-perishable items.

MRU also partners with the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank who give out food hampers with up to a month's worth of provisions. U of C students can now take advantage of this partnership as well.

"We actually ran a pilot project last year," said Aronson. "After running that, we decided to do it again. We thought we have a lot to give and wanted to offer that to other students."

The U of C food bank struggled to fill their shelves earlier in the year due to high demand for hampers.

"Due to the media coverage we have gotten in the past two weeks or so, we have had a ton of food donations pouring in," said U of C Campus Food Bank coordinator Shawnee Belleville. "At this time we are only asking for monetary donations due to the limited amount of shelf space we have."

"We had donations pour in within hours after the articles were printed," said Aronson. "Now we have a real strong foundation to work from."

The U of C food bank saw an increase in the number of hampers provided to students. Last year the food bank assembled 253 hampers, 140 more than the previous year.

The Calgary Interfaith Food Bank located at MRU has also seen increased demand.

"Last month we gave out 35 hampers," said Kusnick. "The year before, the entire year, we gave out 33 hampers."

Kusnick believes the increase is due to deferred student loans by the government.

In September, the CBC reported 3,600 students in Alberta were unable to access government support cheques due to a computer glitch that caused a back up in processing benefit payments.

"It was a huge damper on their finances because everyone was expecting things to come in at that time, so we were very busy," said Kusnick.

Calgary Meal Exchange, a national charity with chapters across Canada, is concerned about food security across Canada. On Oct. 31, Calgary Meal Exchange volunteers will canvas the streets to collect food donations for the campus food bank and Calgary interfaith food bank with an event called Trick or Eat.

"Students go door to door collecting non-perishable food donations and raising donations online," said Calgary Meal Exchange coordinator Jenna Brockerville. "What is really important is starting the discussion with people, to take a minute to think about where their food is coming from and breaking down stereotypes of who is using the food bank."

The U of C food bank is serving more students this season partially because of the partnership but Meal Exchange is confident they can provide.

"Last year we raised over 2,000 pounds of food and this year we have more participating, so we should be more than able to fulfill all the needs of the campus food bank," said Brockerville. "We are aiming pretty high."

U of C students can also take advantage of Good Food Box, a partnership with local farmers "to make Calgary healthier," said Kusnick.

Boxes of 20 to 40 pounds of fruit and vegetables can be bought for $15-$25 at the MRU Peer Support Centre.

"In September we gave out 64 boxes," said Kusnick. "In 2008/2009 we gave out 62 boxes the entire year."

"I think students are definitely out of money this year because of the recession, so when they hear a great deal they will jump on it," said Kusnick.

I took it for granted that people, because they come to university, have finances for food but obviously it is not the case," said Calgary Meal Exchange co-coordinator Stephanie Niasoto. "We also forget to consider that students are not just the ones between 18 and 25 but we got different adults and people with families they are trying to support."

"If you look at people who are completely food secure, they have access to completely nutritional food and it satisfies their cultural integrity," said Brockerville. "So if their religion or ethnicity restricts them to certain food choices or they have a lower budget they are still able to access all the foods they can."

The U of C campus food bank also offers custom hampers for vegetarians and other recipients with specific needs.

Aronson encourages students to stop by the food bank if they are in need and if not, to support it by volunteering, donating or raising awareness.

"We have all sorts of people who come by, people with PhDs, undergrad degrees, faculty and staff come in here," said Aronson, "Basically, if someone needs to use it I hope they are not shy to come by. "