Sept. 21, 2018

Students' Union Campus Food Bank marks 25 years of feeding the hungry

Need for this vital service has grown, and food bank's services have expanded to meet the demand
The Students' Union Campus Food Bank is 25 years old this year. Food Bank co-ordinator Valerie Lennox is one of more than 35 volunteers dedicated to making sure the campus community doesn't go hungry.
The Students' Union Campus Food Bank is 25 years old this year. Food Bank co-ordinator Valerie Lenno Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Tucked behind the Volunteer Services office in Mac Hall lies the Students’ Union Campus Food Bank (CFB), buzzing with the sounds of hamper packing and the low hum of fridges and freezers. In its 25 years, the CFB has a formidable list of the vital role it has played in improving the quality of student life on campus. Food Bank co-ordinator Valerie Lennox (above) is one of more than 35 volunteers dedicated to making sure the campus community doesn't go hungry.

The CFB started out as a student club affiliated with the Calgary Food Bank in 1993. The following year, the SU adopted the CFB as a key program aimed at providing short-term emergency food relief to campus members, including graduate and undergrad students, staff members, and alumni and their families up to two years after graduation.

Since 1994, the CFB has helped more than 10,000 individuals struggling with where their next meal is coming from, with hampers that are nutritionally sound and give peace of mind. With the launch of the Breakfast Program in 2013, the CFB provides free breakfast to students in need in the Q Centre twice a week.

Although the increased usage at the CFB in recent years showcases the plight and reality of food insecurity on our campus, students and campus community members can take pride in the services that the CFB provides and the SU’s commitment to this very critical and much-needed program.

Special hampers help campus community celebrate the holidays

The holidays are also a special time at the food bank. In keeping with the festive season, the CFB provides special hampers to campus community members with the necessary items to prepare a holiday meal, which can include a full-size turkey.

The festive and charitable spirit extends to the Adopt-A-Family program that aims to match student families in need with community sponsors to ensure that their children’s holiday is a little brighter, with a present or two. Just this past December, the Adopt-A-Family program had its busiest year on record. In all, 30 generous donors provided gifts for 70 children.

The CFB also works in tandem with student clubs and campus groups to raise monetary and food donations for the organization through its Holiday Food Drive and Spring Food Drive. These friendly challenges have been highly competitive and spirited, yet remain anchored in the CFB’s goal of giving back to fellow students and instilling a sense of community on our campus.

Volunteer Kristen Fequet works with refrigerated goods. The Campus Food Bank has fed more than 10,000 people since 1993.

Volunteer Kristen Fequet works with refrigerated goods.

Good Food Box provides fresh fruits and veggies

Finally, the CFB is a depot for the Good Food Box (GFB) program run by Community Kitchen. The aim of the GFB is to provide an affordable, locally sourced, accessible option for fresh fruits and vegetables on campus. The GFB is definitely handy for students living in residence or individuals who just want to include more greens and fruits in their meals.

Providing hampers to those students who need it most is only one part of the CFB’s mandate. Another equally important aspect of the program is to provide a meaningful experience to its volunteers. The CFB, much like the other programs under Volunteer Services, are entirely volunteer-centred. Only two part-time student staff co-ordinators ensure volunteers are supported and that both the CFB and the Breakfast Program are in tip-top condition.

Volunteers devote more than 2,100 hours

Having co-ordinated the CFB for more than a year and having been a volunteer for two, I can confidently say that being a part of the CFB has been one of the highlights of my university career. It is exciting to be part of a passionate and motivated group of people who want to contribute and give back to their campus. In the 2016-2017 academic year alone, 37 CFB and Breakfast Program volunteers devoted over 2,100 hours to these programs.

As a CFB co-ordinator, I appreciated the tireless efforts of my fellow co-ordinator, Gabby Wagner, and volunteers who work to guarantee that CFB remains an important program provided for and administered by the Students’ Union.

The challenges and tasks facing the CFB are difficult, but not insurmountable. Rising client usage, which has doubled in the past few years, provides the CFB with the challenge of meeting increased demand. In its 25 years of service, the CFB and those involved in it have continued to work creatively to engage the campus community, and remain firm in its commitment to offering a service that is accountable to its clients and donors.

Thank you to everyone who has made this organization an essential part of the Students’ Union and the university community. Here’s to another successful 25 years!

Jonathan Espayos was a part-time SU Campus Food Bank co-ordinator who recently graduated from the University of Calgary.