You Cannot Live on Ramen Alone

Nourish Program Aims to Address Student Food Insecurity

This article was written by Chloe Gust

“When people aren’t eating properly, their brains just don’t work as well.” 

– Erin Phillips

Erin Phillips, campus Chaplain and community advocate, sat down with me in January to talk about food. Or, more importantly, a lack thereof. In a recent study on student food insecurity at the University of Lethbridge, 14.8% of students reported going entire days without food, while 28.2% of whom say that this happens at least once a week. 19.2% of students reported that they “sometimes” ran out of food during the day and could not afford to buy more.

Food insecurity looks different from person to person, but some ways it manifests includes not eating enough, not being able to afford healthy food items, or skipping meals. The concept of food scarcity is tied to the student experience. The phrase “starving student” describes the intersections of financial insecurity, overbearing workloads, community isolation, and for some, pride. Though nearly a third of students reported some form of food insecurity, only 7.4% of U of L students have used the food bank on campus. 

Though this is a rising issue among students, the University of Lethbridge and surrounding community have started a number of initiatives. Under the umbrella of “the Nourish Program”, these efforts aim to address the variety of ways that students can face food insecurity. Here are a few: 

Student Food Bank

Located in the Students’ Union Office in SU 180, the student food bank provides hampers of food. To receive a hamper, email food.bank@uleth.ca or call 403-329-2222. You will need to show your UofL student ID to receive your hamper, and on your first visit you’ll have to fill out a short form. Each student, however, is limited to two hampers per month and a total of ten visits per your academic career. 

Pros: On-campus, simple process, a variety of foods that can be supplemented at home.

Cons: According to Phillips, if you don’t have a car, can’t carry food around all day, or don’t have a kitchen, these hampers can go to waste. If you haven’t cooked much before, the food hamper items might not be practical or usable. 

It is also worth noting that over an entire academic career the bank can only be accessed 10 times. For someone going through a rough patch, this system is enough to get them through. If someone is dealing with persisting financial issues throughout their degree, they may have to speak with counselling to receive more support. 

Student Pantry Project:

With 4 pantries located across campus, this project aims to cover small meals and snacks. Any student can grab an item from a pantry, and pantries are restocked often.

Pros: On-campus, easy to access, on-the-go, ideal for people without proper kitchens to store or prepare food, or for students who don’t need a full hamper or who may not feel comfortable accessing the food bank.

Cons: Food provided in pantries are meant for single meals or snacks, so it doesn’t cover extended times of food insecurity. The rotation of products is unpredictable, so dietary restrictions might limit choice. 

It is also important to note that when speaking with Phillips, she mentioned how meeting dietary and cultural restrictions can be a problem. Finding halal or kosher food might be just as difficult as finding gluten intolerant or dairy free choices. 

Campus Care Parcel, Buy a Student Breakfast, and Dinner for Six

These initiatives aim to have private donors sponsor students with small donations of money and food. Buy a Student Breakfast is a one-time donation of $10 dollars that buys 2 students a breakfast sandwich and coffee or tea. Dinner for Six is a partnered program that connects students with alumni who will host a dinner for current University of Lethbridge students who can ask questions and gain insight on life after school. 

Pros: The programs are open to all students and usually these opportunities come with other benefits, such as networking opportunities or a community connection.  

Cons: The biggest issue with these programs is that they lack consistency throughout the year. They are wonderful surprises for students who may not have access to home cooked meals, but the programs don’t account for students who have families to provide for, or who need extended assistance. 

Interfaith Food Bank Society and The Lethbridge Food Bank

Though not under the umbrella of the Nourish Program, the Lethbridge Food Bank (lethbridgefoodbank.ca), and Interfaith Food Bank Society (interfaithfoodbank.ca), are city-wide resources, and they have the potential to be great support for students. They provide food hampers, in the same vein as the Student Food Bank. The process to receive a hamper is a little different, as each organization requires different supporting documents to qualify.

Pros: Along with all of the pros of the Student Food Bank, they are consistent, and not reliant on student status.

Cons: Again, the same restrictions to transportation and kitchen access apply, but also the application process is a lot more thorough and may be more restrictive to students, especially those who are not from Lethbridge and may not have physical copies of bills or any statements of earnings. 

Something else that came up during our conversation was the fact that for most supports on and off campus, you have to repeatedly explain the severity of your situation. For some going through a difficult time, this can be traumatic. When asked, Phillips said she would like to have a central agency to advocate for needed services, but that right now it just isn’t feasible. 

Even after  receiving grant funding from the Food for Thought Committee to sponsor the on-campus community garden, and a recent donation of $150,000 from the Lutheran Church, there is still plenty the Nourish Program strives to do. If you are able to provide some donations to the student food bank or related programs, they are always welcome. As with any food bank, monetary donations allow the opportunity for organizers to fill whatever needs they have, but any donations of non-perishable foods are welcome. 

If  have any questions about any of the programs, Erin Phillips says you can always send her an email at phillips@uleth.ca.