Every week, nearly a thousand pounds of groceries pass through the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association food bank. Run in association with Winnipeg Harvest, the UWSA food bank has been providing food to both students and non-students for more than 15 years.
Jennifer Black, UWSA food bank coordinator, says the organization was designed with clients’ confidentiality in mind.
“We won’t ask your income,” Black says. “It’s a number system. We used to verbally call out clients’ names, but we don’t do that anymore.”
The bi-weekly food bank sign-in lasts from 2 - 3:30 p.m. in the Bulman Student Center in the Riddell Hall basement. Recipients are required to bring their Manitoba Health Cards. Each hamper contains a variety of food items, amounting to around $50 - $70 of groceries.
Non-students must contact Winnipeg Harvest directly to sign up each week.
At the time Black began working with the food bank, the client list was limited to 50. Since then, the list has been expanded to 75 with additional walk-ins each week, serving almost 200 people every two weeks. Black would like to see that number increase.
“That’s just one of many ways we hope to improve the work we do as long as we can find ways to accommodate it,” Black says. “Ensuring that as many clients as possible are students would be another.”
Thankfully, it’s not unusual for a former food bank client to pitch in and volunteer. Even when the UWSA food bank is not in need, Winnipeg Harvest is always in need of new volunteers. Additional volunteers are most urgently needed during summer months, school holidays and exam seasons. Likewise at Winnipeg Harvest, where donations tend to drop off following Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Rorie Mcleod Arnould, UWSA president, says the food bank has a strong partner in Winnipeg Harvest, the city’s main food bank supplier.
“The great thing about Harvest is that they take people at face value,” Arnould says. “They don’t ask questions, they don’t judge. They’re there for you.”
In addition to the UWSA food bank, an Emergency Student Food Fund can be accessed by students anytime. A campus food drive was held in December, asking students and faculty for donations of non-perishable food items. The food drive was a resounding success, with sizable donations coming from The University of Winnipeg Collegiate, Diversity Foods and even the U of W faculty holiday party.
For access to either bank, go to the UWSA office in the Bulman Student Centre and speak with Allison Reimer, vice-president of student services.
Reimer admits it’s not uncommon for those in desperation to feel forced to pay bills instead of buying food.
“A lot of students feel like, ‘There are people who are more in need than me and I don’t want to take food away from them,’” she says. “That’s a beautiful idea, but it’s not necessarily the right idea.”
“If you need help getting food, please reach out,” Reimer says. “Not having enough food can make it difficult to study. It’s important that students feel there are people here who want to support them and make sure they have enough food to eat.”