UVSS Food Bank forced to tighten belts, welcomes donations

Campus News

[pullquote]“We’re here, we’re open to donations, [and] we really need them.” – Courtney Striker[/pullquote]

Whether it’s turkey, tofurkey, or spiked eggnog, sharing a meal with friends and family is at the heart of nearly every holiday tradition. But a troubling hiccup in the UVSS Food Bank & Free Store’s budget may leave many students with a little less this year.

Courtney Striker, Assistant Coordinator of the UVSS Food Bank & Free Store, spoke with the Martlet (both in person and through email correspondence).

“Up until [recently], we had been instructed to buy food responsibly based on need. We actually buy roughly 85 per cent of the goods we carry,” said Striker, “as we cannot survive off donations alone.”

“We have been spending to meet the needs of our ever-increasing student user base,” says Jasmine Robertson, UVSS Food Bank & Free Store Coordinator. “But recent conversations with UVSS management have indicated that our budget simply cannot support that kind of spending, and we risk accumulating debt if we continue.”

Items like these are in hot demand most of the year at the Food Bank, but now the volunteers are struggling to keep up. Photo by Myles Sauer
Items like these are in high demand most of the year at the Food Bank, but budget adjustments and slowed donations are making it tough to keep up. Photo by Myles Sauer

Striker emphasized that “it is not necessarily a matter of transferring expenditures from one area to another to resolve the issue.” Fixed costs — such as maintenance — are essentially set in stone, and going over budget and carrying a deficit into next year is not an option.

“It comes down to our budget simply not being high enough to fill the obvious need, and while goods were flying off the shelves quickly before the budget cuts, now they are simply gone within hours of getting our orders in.”

The UVSS Food Bank & Free Store, located in the basement of the SUB, offers canned goods and non-perishables, in addition to a plethora of fresh grocery items, such as milk, eggs, bread, and produce. The Food Bank is only used by students, says Striker, and the majority of the budget comes from student fees: $1.00 from every full-time student and $0.50 per part-time student, per semester. The Food Bank brought in a total of $36 869 for 2015, according to UVSS financial statements.

Between Sept. 1 and Nov. 13, the Food Bank saw 3705 visitors walk through their doors. Of these nearly 400 students who stop by each week, roughly 27 per cent are graduate students and 15 per cent are students with families.

However, in keeping fresh and nutritious foods accessible to students, the Food Bank is struggling to mediate supply and demand.

“The holiday season is not more busy than any other time in the term, but we do notice that as the semester comes to a close, students are coming more regularly,” says Robertson. “We also know that [two] weeks can be a long time to go without food bank support, so we want to keep our shelves and fridges stocked right up to our closure date to ensure that folks have as much support as possible.”

The Food Bank most frequently requires donations of various milks (almond, rice, soy, coconut), snacks (such as granola bars and applesauce), peanut butter, and chickpeas, as well as toiletries (such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and soap).

“We always emphasize that absolutely anything you can donate is amazing,” said Striker. “But if you have options to give specific things, these are what we usually ask for . . . [and] we actually, if possible, prefer cash donations, because we can make that stretch so much farther.”

Donations from the UVic community, as well as the Greater Victoria community will prevent the Food Bank from having to implement limitations on what is available to students over the holidays and in the coming months.