Over the past 20 years, the SFU Food Bank has provided undergraduate students with much-needed groceries and nutrition information in difficult times. However, recent challenges such as insufficient storage and lack of knowledge may bring an end to the current system.
The issue was brought to the attention of the SFSS by Student Services, which manages the administration and coordination of the Food Bank. Student Services cited problems such as issues of waste, inadequate cold storage which results in an inability to store fresh food, and a lack of knowledge of best practices.
According to the SFSS — which funds the Food Bank — Student Services would like to be out of the distribution business by Sept 1 this year. The Peak attempted to contact the Food Bank Coordinator, but received no reply.
Despite these concerns, neither group is looking to abandon the food bank program; instead, they are approaching the issue with enthusiasm. “We at the Food Bank Working Group like to see the proposed changes as an opportunity as opposed to a challenge, because there are definitely issues with current the food bank,” spoke Chardaye Bueckert, SFSS External Relations Officer. “There’s many challenges around accessing a food service, and that’s something we need to change.”
Currently, the Food Bank is accessible to any SFU undergraduate student in need; yet, it is only used by 75 students per semester out of a total population of 20,000. Bueckert feels that the lack of knowledge surrounding eligibility and accessibility is one of the biggest challenges that the SFSS and SS are currently facing.
“You don’t want to exclude anyone who needs [help] by establishing firm criteria, but when it’s very vague and open it’s also difficult to know who is eligible,” said Bueckert. “Some people may think that you need to be in dire straights, whereas if you only have a small grocery budget and you need to stretch it out, maybe it is appropriate to use it. We need to come up with some clear branding to let people know that it’s okay to go there if they are in need.”
Although both partners agree that change is needed, Student Services and the SFSS do not agree on which path to take. SS is hoping to switch from a distributive to an education and referral based model, where students in need would be referred to a food bank off campus. A similar referral-based model has recently been implemented at SFU Surrey Campus, with relative success.
In contrast, the SFSS does not feel that such promise would be found at SFU Burnaby; the closest community Food Bank is located in Port Moody, a 40-50 minute transit ride away. Instead, the SFSS is looking to pursue other logistical models to create “a high quality, accessible, stigma free service where any student who identifies as having a need to access a food service is able to do that,” according to Bueckert.
In this pursuit, the SFSS has struck a working group to consider the various options available, which include a voucher program and a food hamper system. Bueckert spoke to the benefits of the voucher program, saying, “We’re lucky to have a lot of food services on campus, even a grocery store, so that’s a huge benefit to students . . . they would have access ideally to fresh foods and hot foods, meat, dairy, produce, things we couldn’t provide under the current Food Bank.”
As an additional benefit, the SFSS and Student Services would not have to be involved in the actual food distribution and storage, relieving a huge administrative burden. Although a food hamper solution is also being considered, it would require coordination similar to the current system.
These are only some of the many solutions that are being considered by the SFSS working group. “We don’t want to narrow in too specifically before we get feedback from the community at large because there might be some really new, innovative things that could be presented so we don’t want to close the door to any of these possibilities,” commented Bueckert.
To facilitate this, the working group is organizing a feedback survey that will be distributed to the entire student population. Students will have a period of two weeks to reply, with responses coming in until the Food Bank Stakeholder Representative Focus Group takes place on July 19. The working group is confident that this event, which will be attended by representatives from SFPIRG, the GSS, SFU Health and Counselling, and various rotunda groups, will result in an SFU Food Bank solution.
Bueckert concluded, “No matter what, we want a food service on campus.”