On Sept. 30, the UVSS Food Bank & Free Store quietly reopened its doors, and is now operating in the Student Union Building basement, room B007. The relocation comes after a decision to combine the food bank and free store, and is currently in its soft launch phase, with an official launch to come on Nov. 3.
“Our intention here is to create a very inclusive community space. The free store and the food bank combined are starting to generate that sort of community,” said UVSS director-at-large Kenya Rogers, who spearheaded the free store project with volunteers Emily Bellinger and Kelly Toots.
Also involved are UVSS Chairperson Kayleigh Erickson, Food Bank & Free Store Officer Samantha Scott, and assistant Jasmine Robertson.
“The food bank is a really essential service on campus,” Robertson said. “It’s important to recognize that although we’re all students in university and we have a certain degree of privilege, there are a lot of various circumstances that students are living in, and it can be a very challenging time in peoples’ lives.”
“We encounter so many reasons why [a student would use a food bank],” she said, including everything from time management, to financial need, to accessibility issues.
The food bank has been in service for over 10 years, providing canned and fresh goods, bread, pasta, grains, and more. The service is funded by the UVSS through student fees. According to Robertson, this creates a community of students helping students. “Even if they’re not aware they’re supporting students, they are,” she said.
On a student’s first visit, they fill out a form with their student number, undergraduate or graduate status, and if they are supporting themselves or a family. Then, they fill out another form with the items they took in order to help volunteers keep track of the most popular items, and when the food bank reaches its highest student traffic. “We have limits on certain things you can take just so we have enough for everybody,” Robertson said.
On the other hand, the free store is also comprised of donations that are replenished by students on campus. Last year, Rogers and her team set up a donation booth for students leaving residence to “leave gently used items they wouldn’t need anymore.”
The project began to gain momentum after a discussion at UVic’s environmental roundtable in March 2014, when people came together to share ideas for change on campus. The project promotes sustainability and reducing consumption on campus, Rogers said.
The free store offers school supplies, household items, small appliances, home décor, and more, with the hope of adding clothing to the inventory in the near future. Unlike the food bank, there are no restrictions on how much can be taken, prompting a sense of trust between students and the organizers of the space.
Although the food bank only moved down the hallway from its previous location, the new location is larger and allows for the “harmonization of the free store and the food bank,” Rogers said. “We felt they worked really well together, and combined efforts with our co-ordinators.”
In the midst of their research, the free store worked with the University of Ottawa’s free store, which has grown over the past few years to offer donations and space to the greater Ottawa community. “I’d like to see the community here expand, [and] I’m excited to see where it goes,” she said.
If you would like to volunteer with the UVSS Food Bank & Free Store, email firstname.lastname@example.org.