Anonymous food banks give students options

Students have never been the archetype for prosperity. After consolidating tuition costs and other living expenses, the majority of independent students have to then settle for Chef Boyardee, Ramen and Kraft Dinner as main sources of sustenance. In the most extreme cases, some students are even forced to solicit the local food bank at their university or a third party food exchange program, like Vancouver’s Quest Food Exchange. However, more often than not, food banks are established in a way as to keep intact the anonymity of solicitors, and to distribute food logically according to need.

At Capilano University, the food bank system is partly school-run, and partly decentralized. At the Capilano Students’ Union, students who do inquire about, or are in need of, a food bank are referred to apply with Quest, a third party food bank with three locations in the Lower Mainland. Once the application is approved, one can go to one of the locations and shop “with dignity” for heavily subsidized food, as it is set up like an actual grocery store. The major advantage of using this service is that students can still retain their anonymity and do not have to deal with the potentially stigmatized notion of having to ask for assistance.

The CSU does, however, sometimes provide food subsidies within its organization. The First Nations students committee, for example, was recently allocated $50 bi-weekly to purchase food for its First Nations students lounge. This allocation was brought forward at the request of the committee, and was approved by the CSU’s Executive. Previously, the women’s lounge has also been provided with funding for food.

However, under this arrangement, the person in charge of purchasing food for the committee is still subject to regular sales prices, as opposed to Quest’s fractioned pricing. If you buy in bulk through Quest, for a flat rate of $13, you can get a Dinner-for-4 package with items ranging from hummus chips to Italian cookies, and prices ranging from 25 cents to five dollars. Although CSU food subsidies are not solely provided for starving students, students in need could potentially attain more food from Quest at a lower cost overall.

At other post-secondary institutions across Vancouver, student unions are generally in charge of decentralized food bank programs. Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s program, for example, uses “anonymity lockers.” After emailing the Kwantlen Student Association Health and Recreation Manager, Eddie Lee, explains that the KSA replies with a locker number and a respective lock combination. The student can then pick up his or her foodstuffs in complete discreetness. Usually the care packages can last from one to two weeks, depending on a student’s needs for groceries and non-perishables. Lee points out, however, that the program has not been too popular with the students, but that it also “has only been around for less than a year,” and it is “just a matter of promotion to increase awareness [of it].”

SFU’s solution for the starving student is a joint effort between the Simon Fraser Student Society and the Student Development and Programming Centre. Student Life Acting Manager Lisa Ogilvie notes that apart from taking a percentage of vending machine sales, SFU also conducts food drives, accepts food donations, and gives students an option to consolidate library fees by offering groceries at a low cost at the campus Nester’s Market location. This last alternative, again, secures a student’s anonymity by offering discounts on food of which any student might be willing to take advantage, given their vigilance towards cost management.

Most of Vancouver’s post-secondary institutions have food banks or food subsidy programs in one form or another. Their approaches to diminish the student’s hardship may vary greatly, but there is a definite trend in trying to resolve the problem of the struggling, and evidently starvation-prone, student. Anonymity in all cases is a major factor in how student societies conduct their programs. As Lee points out, some people working at the unions “do not have [adequate] training to address different issues” that struggling students may have, and in that sense, anonymity is very welcome for all parties. Also, dignity (maybe even pride) plays a significant role in whether a student will make use of their school’s food bank, and to not be known has the potential to help decrease that apprehension.

In the instance of the CSU’s self-managed food subsidies via the First Nations students lounge and potentially other constituency groups, it makes sense to have an option apart from the Quest program because of possibly different and demographic-specific issues that need to be addressed.

Although funding can often be a problem, Kwantlen’s approach is a strong model to follow as it tries to settle the issues rationally, allowing not only for maximum anonymity, but also taking into account that means of sustenance need to be perpetual if a student is unable to satisfy expenses.

Applications for Quest can be found at the CSU in the Maple building.

//Sasha Lakic, Writer

// graphic by Natahsha Prakash

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