A student-lead initiative at the University of Lethbridge is hoping to help those who might be going hungry while pursuing an education.
The U of L’s student union (ULSU), PACT (Philanthropy, Advancement, Community and Traditions) student alumni council, and Organization of Residence Students (ORS) teamed up to organize this month’s Swipe Out Hunger campaign, with the goal of tackling food insecurity experienced by students.
“When the university did some research, we found that one in four students have been affected by food insecurity in some way,” said PACT president Holly Kletke. “There are lots of students who access the student’s union food hampers.
“It’s definitely there, even if you don’t think it is.”
Members of PACT, the ULSU and ORS formed a committee in the fall and began brainstorming ways that food scarcity could be addressed.
“Do we fundraise funds? Does advocacy to government work? Do we provide services? There’s a lot of things that students need,” said Amy Lambert, who’s a member of both the ULSU and PACT.
“There are so many intersections of insecurity, and that’s kind of what makes it really complex.
“We don’t know all the different ways in which students are struggling to nourish themselves. And it’s a really personal thing.”
COVID-19 has also had an impact on food insecurity for students. Lambert says normally, first-year students living on campus are required to purchase a U of L meal plan, but the option is not being offered this year due to the pandemic.
“The option of having food integrated into your learning experience is no longer a thing,” Lambert said.
Residence assistant Tess McNaughton says capacity in U of L residence is about 1,000 students, but less than one-third of that is occupied this year. For those who are living in residence buildings, food has been harder to come by.
“Because nothing is open,” McNaughton said. “I think that’s something that is a big struggle, especially for first-year university students, because while they do have access to a kitchen — they have their own kitchen in their building — they don’t have access to easy, on-campus food.”
The committee decided to pursue the Swipe Out Hunger campaign, teaming up with California-based not-for-profit Swipe Out Hunger. The U of L is the first Canadian university to partner with the organization, which does advocacy work surrounding food security on post-secondary campuses.
Using PACT, ULSU and ORS funding, as well as receiving a Food For Thought grant through the university’s donor-funding Agility program, the committee was able to approve more than $5,000 for this month’s event.
175 Pad Thai food baskets are available on a first-come, first-served basis through Lethbridge’s Umami Shop, complete with a virtual cooking class to learn how to make the dish.
McNaughton says the social aspect of cooking a meal together is something that’s really exciting for students right now, who are largely isolated.
“Make this food together, be together and learn together,” she said.
“There’s a few people who have roommates, but quite a few don’t, so if you’re alone in these rooms, I think you kind of lose that social aspect that comes with eating together.”
Lambert says it was important that the recipe be something that students could recreate.
“Something where they actually learn the skills to cook a well-balanced meal,” Lambert said. “Something that is relatively inexpensive… as well as this is a gluten-free, vegetarian option.”
Those involved with the campaign hope to see further action regarding food insecurity for students, including on an even bigger scale.
“It’s crucial that — especially in these times — our administration needs to know that to support students, they need to support students, not just academically,” Lambert said.
“Students will not thrive in our institution if they don’t have access to food.”
Kletke says the biggest key is acknowledging that food insecurity is a common issue for post-secondary students.
“As long as there’s awareness, we’ll always have students that are passionate, and we’ll hopefully be able to work to where there are no more starving students,” Kletke said.
Non-students can also purchase the same baskets through Umami Shop by March 22, for $24.99 each plus GST; with the option for community members to donate to support the university’s Nourish programs.