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Photo by Jarrett Edmund

Campus Food Bank faces rising demand, shrinking reserves amid holiday season

By Ashar Memon, November 14 2017 — 

The Students’ Union Campus Food Bank is asking for donations from University of Calgary community members as it braces for another year of budget deficits and record demand for food hampers.

Established in 1993 as a student-run organization, the SU adopted the Food Bank a year later due to its popularity. The program provides free food hampers to students, staff and faculty members, as well as alumni who have graduated within the last two years.

According to data provided by the Campus Food Bank, 85 hampers have been handed out so far this year, feeding 211 people. By comparison, 69 hampers were disbursed by this time last year, feeding 116 people.

Campus Food Bank coordinators Gabby Wagner and Jonathan Espayos attribute rising demand to a lack of social-assistance programs for students as well as high unemployment. They also cited the economic downturn Alberta is currently facing.

“The Campus Food Bank, as well as other food banks around Calgary, are seeing that the economic downturn in Alberta has really influenced both increased usage and a decrease in donations that the food banks have been receiving,” Wagner said.

The Food Bank accepts donations year-round. However, both Wagner and Espayos said they receive a large portion of donations through events like the Holiday Food Drive, held between Nov. 1416. They said that the holiday season is typically the busiest time of year for the food bank in terms of the number of people it serves.

Growing demand for its services paired with decreased donations has forced the food bank to tap into its reserve fund. Data provided by the Food Bank shows that the fund decreased by $30,000 two years ago and fell another $23,000 this year. The reserve fund now contains about $62,000.

According to Wagner and Espayos, the Food Bank will likely see another withdrawal from the reserve fund this year. They say that this year’s deficit has already reached about $8,200 despite a recent $8,000 donation from the Graduate Student Association.

Graduate students are the largest group of clients for the Food Bank, making up 46 per cent of users in the 201617 academic year. Undergraduate students make up the next largest group, constituting about 40 per cent of the Food Bank’s users.

“We know that the holiday season is approaching and it can be a financially stressful time for a lot of people,” president of GSA Brit Paris said in a UToday article. “I’m hoping that our donation can relieve some of that stress for a few more students this year.”

According to Espayos, the Food Bank limits the number of food hampers it gives out to a maximum of three hampers per student each semester to ensure longevity.

“One of the key missions of the Campus Food Bank is to ensure sustainability, so for policies and procedures, we have a soft limit on the amount of hampers that we give out,” Espayos said. “That is just to ensure that we don’t have any shortages.”

A typical food hamper spans multiple bags and contains an assortment of food in accordance with Canada’s Food Guide. Items include fresh produce, frozen meat and vegetables, as well as dairy coupons redeemable at grocery stores. Hampers also contain items like period products and laundry detergent.

Wagner and Espayos said that they’ve been reviewing the Food Bank’s policies to keep costs down. One of their new changes is reusing bags. Previously, clients were provided cloth bags every time they requested a food hamper, regardless of whether they had received a food hamper before.

What we were finding was that many clients were saying that they have piles and piles of bags at their home and were wondering if they could bring them back to the Food Bank for us to reuse,” Wagner said. “Working with Health Canada, we decided to implement a policy where if clients have used the food bank before, we ask that they bring in bags that we’ve already provided them.”

The SU Campus Food Bank is hosting the Holiday Food Drive from Nov. 1416 in MacHall. The food bank also accepts donations year-round in Volunteer Services, also located in MacHall.

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